Niall Collins insists planning permission was properly granted

Junior minister does not address issue of residence at time of application in personal statement to Dáil

Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins spoke in the Dáil of 'the misleading and inaccurate contents' of a recent article in relation to a planning application for his family home. The article was published on the Ditch website. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell

Junior minister Niall Collins has said he is “entirely satisfied” that his planning application for his family home in Co Limerick over 20 years ago met the correct planning criteria and was correctly adjudicated upon.

Mr Collins, Minister of State for Skills and Further Education, told the Dáil on Thursday afternoon in a personal statement that he wished to address “the misleading and inaccurate contents” of a recent article in relation to a planning application for his family home. The article was published on the Ditch website.

Mr Collins insisted that, contrary to the claims in the article, he fully satisfied the requirements for planning permission, despite owning another home in Limerick which he did not disclose on the planning application.

However, he did not address the issue of why the planning application stated that he was living with his parents, when he was living with his wife at a different address.

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He said that he had engaged an architect to prepare the application.

He said he had acquired a house near Limerick city with his wife, two years prior, and that he wished to move closer to his parents and also hoped to rear his own family “in an area where I had lived most of my life”.

“My home area of Patrickswell was deemed to be in the pressure area as designated by the 1999 Limerick County Development Plan, which was the overarching planning policy document and upon which planning decisions were made at the time,” he said.

“The decision on my planning application for my new home near my parents would be based on the policy contained in the 1999 Limerick County Development Plan, which clearly stated that any person who lived in the pressure area prior to 1990 was eligible to be granted permission.”

Mr Collins added that he “clearly” met the planning criteria on two grounds – by virtue of being the son of a long-term resident landholder and having lived in the pressure area prior to 1990.

“The matter of whether I owned a house with my wife near Limerick city… was not an issue of consideration or policy at the time under that county development plan and whether I had stated that or not was immaterial to the planning adjudication process 23 years ago,” he said.

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Mr Collins added that to suggest his planning application in 2001 was not valid was “entirely factually incorrect and inaccurate”.

The Limerick TD said the planning application was in the name of Niall Collins, as was the site notice and the newspaper advertisement of the application, “and in all my correspondence on the planning file”.

He said he “learned for the first time” earlier this week that an advertisement published in the Limerick Leader newspaper on April 28th, 2001, in relation to a planning application was in the name of “a Niall O’Connor”.

“I was not aware of this advertisement before this week. The correct and only advertisement that I authorised at any time was that published in the Limerick Leader on May 12th, 2001,” he said.

Mr Collins’s statement to the Dáil on Thursday afternoon came at a time when many TDs had already left Leinster House, and there was no provision for questions to him.

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There was strong support for Mr Collins from within his own party. Speaking privately, Fianna Fáil TDs backed him – Dublin TD Jim O’Callaghan said it was a “comprehensive and detailed account that satisfactorily answered all the issues raised”. Another said Mr Collins was likely to fight for his position – describing him as a “bruiser”.

A third declared the matter “closed”. A Fine Gael backbencher said Mr Collins appeared to be “out the gap” – but there was some concern on the Green backbenches. Although unwilling to comment publicly, one TD said that despite his statement it was “unclear whether the planning application in question was fully compliant”.

“Questions remain and the public must have full confidence in both the minister and the robustness of our planning law,” the Green TD said.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times