The Labour Party has submitted a complaint about Fine Gael TD Damien English to the Dáil’s Committee on Members’ Interests in relation to his failure to declare he already owned a property when applying for planning permission.
Labour leader Ivana Bacik submitted the complaint on behalf of her party on Friday. In a statement, it said the party believes Mr English may have breached the Standards in Public Office Act, 2001, by “providing false information on a planning application”.
Speaking further on Saturday about the matter, Ms Bacik said her party had been forced to act because of what she described as the failure of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to address the matter.
Mr English has admitted that he failed to inform Meath County Council that he owned a house in Castlemartin when applying to build a once-off rural house in Cookstown, near Kells, in 2008.
At the time of his resignation as Minister, the Meath West TD said: “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.”
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[ Meath council asked if it will investigate false information from planning applicants ]
The powerful Dáil Committee, chaired by Donegal TD Joe McHugh, issues guidelines to TDs on how to comply with ethics legislation. It also considers complaints referred to it. It has power to investigate alleged contraventions of Acts by members of the Dáil and also to impose sanctions, including suspensions, on TDs.
Outlining why Labour made the complaint to the Dáil committee rather than to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), a spokeswoman said the party would have been unable to proceed with a complaint with SIPO as it had jurisdiction only for complaints that occurred when Mr English was an “office holder” - in other words a Minister, or a Minister of State.
In 2008, at the time of his planning application, Fine Gael was in opposition and Mr English was a backbench TD and was not an office holder.
In his resignation statement, Mr English accepted that he had made a false statement.
“This was wrong, not up to the standard required and I apologise for doing so.”
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.
In an interview with Saturday with Colm Ó Mongáin on RTE Radio 1, Ms Bacik said that at this juncture she could not see Mr English giving an address to the Dáil about the matter.
“The reality is that I have now raised this matter on three separate occasions with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who is also the leader of the Fine Gael party. The first point at which I raised it with him he said it was not behaviour that he would tolerate and he suggested that there would be internal procedures within his party.
“We heard nothing more and indeed there seemed to be no follow up and no scrutiny of what had happened so we raised it again.
“I raised it again a separate time at which time Taoiseach said it was a matter for Meath County Council. The third time I raised it this week he said ‘this is an internal matter’. And made, in fact, an allegation about something in the Labour party that wasn’t the case and he later withdrew.”
Mr Bacik said it is vital that the matter was followed up through the processes laid down by law for ensuring the upholding of high ethical standards in public life.
Ms Bacik added Labour has a history of putting ethical framework in place in relation to such matters. “Indeed we have a Bill which we put in seven years ago now which has still not been adopted by Government to give the Standards in Public Office Commission more powers.”
Meath West TD Peadar Tobin, of Aontú, told the programme that he supported the decision made by the Labour Party in relation to Deputy English.
“I do note the fact that Leo Varadkar bounced this back into Meath County Council’s Court. We [Aontú] raised it with Meath County Council on Monday to see were there going to investigate it. They are not going to investigate it.
“It is a big issue. There are so many people around the country who are looking to get planning permission for their families... We need councils to make sure the law is being implemented fairly across the whole process.”
Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire and Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, told the show that Mr English had immediately resigned as a Minister when the information emerged.
“That is a heavy political price to pay. He did that immediately because it was the right thing to do. He is a representative for the people of Meath. And it is up to the people of Meath to make decisions about his future as much as everyone else in this studio.
“We have standing committees to address a whole range of matters and the Labour Party have made a complaint that will be investigated. There is no difficulty with that. I am honestly not sure that that is the most pressing issue people are facing today. I do believe the ultimate arbiters of this are the people of Meath.”