Damien English resigns as junior minister over 2008 planning application

Fine Gael TD says he informed Taoiseach of decision following questions about planning application from 14 years ago

Fine Gael junior minister Damien English has resigned after it was revealed he gave incorrect information to a local authority when making a planning application to build a house in a rural area.

Mr English, the minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, informed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of his decision on Wednesday night. The discrepancy in the planning application was revealed by The Ditch website on Wednesday.

In a statement on Thursday morning Mr English said: “Yesterday in an online article, questions were raised about my planning application from 14 years ago.

“I reviewed this application, made in 2008, and it is clear to me that I failed to inform Meath County Council (MCC) about ownership of my house in Castlemartin.


“This was wrong, not up to the standard required and I apologise for doing so.”

He thanked the people of Meath West for their “ongoing support” as their TD and said he will “continue to serve them and work hard on their behalf in the constituency”.

He also thanked the Taoiseach and parliamentary colleagues “for their support during my time as Minister of State”.

Mr English said: “I would like to recognise the support and sacrifice of Laura and my family at all times.”

Mr English did not disclose that he already owned the Castlemartin property in a planning application to Meath County Council for a one-off rural home in 2008.

People who wish to build houses in rural area must comply with a series of criteria showing links to the location and a need for the housing.

Land Registry papers show Mr English became the full owner of the property at Castlemartin, Co Meath in 2004.

Mr English and his wife Laura later successfully applied for planning permission to build a bungalow in the rural Cookstown area outside Kells in 2008.

The Rural Development section of the Meath County Development Plan 2007 to 2013 outlines the criteria for non-farmers who wish to secure planning permission for rural housing.

It says people local to an area are considered to include those “who have spent substantial periods of their lives, living in rural areas as members of the established rural community for a period in excess of five years and who do not possess a dwelling or who have not possessed a dwelling in the past, in which they have resided or who possess a dwelling in which they do not currently reside.”

A MCC Planning Report from October 8th, 2008 on Mr English’s application says he did not own a dwelling.

The document says the application site is a “strong rural area” under the definition in the County Development Plan and the applicant is required to establish compliance with the local housing need policy it sets out.

A “local need form” must be filled out as part of the application process for one-off housing in the countryside which asks about their background in the area and includes a question on whether or not the applicant or applicants own a property.

The MCC planning report says that according to the local needs form submitted with the application “the applicant currently resides in the family home at Castlemartin and has done so for the past 30 years.”

It notes that the home is around three miles from the application site and says “the applicant is employed as a Public Representative by Dáil Éireann in Dublin and also has a constituency office in Navan.”

It also says: “The applicant does not own a dwelling and has not owned a dwelling previously.” The report also says: “The applicant has submitted documentation in the form of invoices, mobile phone bills, bank statements and insurance documents for the past 5 years which link him to the family home at Castlemartin.”

It adds: “On the basis of the information submitted the applicant has strong linkages specific to the application site and as such satisfies the Local Housing Need criteria in relation to rural housing as per the Meath County Development Plan.”

Mr Varadkar said: “Last night, Damien English TD offered me his resignation as Minister of State for Employment Affairs, Business and Retail.

“He informed me that 14 years ago, when applying for planning permission, he made a declaration to Meath County Council that was not correct.

“It was his view given the circumstances that his position was not tenable. I agreed and accepted his resignation.”

Speaking from Hillsborough in Northern Ireland on Thursday, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said: “I think he made his decision himself. I understand he went to the Taoiseach and indicated the situation.

“I think it’s very difficult personally for him, I think he’s been a good minister and has been a good parliamentarian for the last number of years. It’s a very difficult day for him and his family but he made the right decision in the wider sense given the lack of transparency.”

‘The right decision’

Minister of State for Community Development, Integration and Charities Joe O’Brien told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland that he thinks Damien English made the right decision to resign.

“It is clear that his behaviour was not up to standard of what is expected, rightly expected, of all of us. I think he has made the right decision today. “That is quite a serious omission. And I think he made the right decision to resign today.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told the same programme that she also thinks Mr English made the right decision in resigning.

“This is now, I think, the second Minister of State to resign and it seems the newly reshuffled Government is in some respects following the pattern of the last one at ministerial resignations.”

Labour’s spokesman on education Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said Mr English’s resignation demonstrated that people in public life needed to be “an awful lot more serious about their declarations, because what he did was wrong”. The resignation did not help the stability of the Government, but the resignation had “spared us” weeks of disarray.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy expressed surprise at the speed with which the resignation came compared with Robert Troy resignation which “had to be dragged out”.

Speaking on LMFM earlier on Thursday, Mr Murphy said: “I think he did the right thing by resigning.”

“English’s statement is a ‘sorry I got caught’ statement because he doesn’t have any reasonable excuse here,” he added.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times