Locals express ‘shock’ at Supermac’s campaign revelations

Firm under fire for agreeing to cover cost of submissions backing new service area near Ennis

Pat McDonagh of Supermac’s. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Pat McDonagh of Supermac’s. File photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

A number of established retailers and hoteliers in Ennis, Co Clare, have expressed their “shock” at the revelation that the company behind a plan to build a large motorway service area outside the town had agreed to pay the cost of submission fees in support of the plan.

The business interests, who as a group have opposed the plan, have described the revelation, and the fact that some of the more than 180 supportive submissions to the council were forged, as an “unsavoury sideshow” which it hoped would not “undermine the planning process”.

Businessman Pat McDonagh and his Supermac’s fast food franchise wants to build a large motorway service station, complete with retail and restaurant outlets, just off the M18, 4.8km east of Ennis.

Shortly before the deadline for submissions closed this month, a single batch of more than 180 letters was received by Clare County Council. However, when the council wrote back to the supposed submitters, acknowledging also their payment of the requisite €20 fee, 40 of them contacted the council to say they had not made any submission, nor paid €20.

This week, it was further revealed that Supermac’s had agreed to pay for the €20 submission fees, though no money had been handed over as yet.

Forged signatures

The company did not say who organised the campaign of submissions, only that a petition was being organised locally. It denounced the forging of signatures (which in at least one case was that of a dead person) saying: “This company is horrified to learn from the media that this exercise was not conducted legitimately and disowns the actions taken and wants to distance itself completely from them.”

Yesterday, Allen Flynn, owner of the Old Ground Hotel, one of the opposing interests, said on behalf of the group that he was “genuinely shocked” that Supermac’s had agreed to reimburse people writing in letters of support.

He added: “At the end of the day, the hope within our group is that this unsavoury sideshow is not allowed undermine the planning process.”

Meanwhile, a woman whose late father was alleged to have made a submission in support of the plan has spoken of her surprise to find his name among those purporting to have written to Clare County Council.

Paddy Russell of Clarecastle died in November 2003. His daughter Anne Marie was taken aback to learn that 15 years later, on August 10th last, he had apparently written to the council’s planning department.

In the letter, the late Mr Russell declared his “full support to Mr Pat McDonagh for his recent planning submission for a Motorway Service station at Junction 12” of the M18.

The letter to the council, similar to others delivered in bulk, was alleged to have been sent from Mr Russell’s home in Clarecastle.

The council replied with a standard acknowledgement (for the observation letter and €20 fee), which was received at the nearby address of his daughter, whose story appeared first in the Clare Champion.

“I was away last week in Germany,” Ms Russell told The Irish Times, “and when I came back there was a letter addressed to my late father. When I opened it, I said ‘oh good God’.”

The current occupant of her father’s former house had apparently kindly dropped the letter into his daughter’s home, some 500 meters away.

Asked if she thought her father would support the plan, were he alive, Ms Russell said: “I’d say he’d go to the meetings and listen to the discussion but sure, he’d be 86 at this stage.”

And her own view? “I suppose it would be good for employment but it should go through the proper channels . . . There’s something rotten with whatever is going on in Clarecastle – whatever is going on.”