Fine Gael begins disciplinary process against candidate who received money for withdrawing planning objection

Marian Dwyer-Agrios received cash and work valued at €30,000 from developer in 2019

Fine Gael has initiated a disciplinary process against a local election candidate who has withdrawn from the race following allegations she received money for ending an objection to a housing development near where she lives.

Marian Dwyer-Agrios posted on Facebook on Tuesday morning asking voters not to consider her for election after The Ditch website reported on Monday that she had received cash and work valued at a combined €30,000 from a housing developer, following a planning observation she made in 2019.

On Tuesday evening, a party spokesman confirmed Ms Dwyer-Agrios’s campaign in Co Louth had ceased.

“The reported behaviour falls well short of the standards expected of any Fine Gael candidate,” he said.

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“Her election posters are being taken down in the Drogheda rural local electoral area with more than half her posters already removed. As per her statement, what occurred was wrong and it should not have happened.

“This matter has been referred to Fine Gael’s disciplinary process.”

In her Facebook post, Ms Dwyer-Agrios said: “Following a report published online yesterday, I wish to announce I will not be contesting the 2024 Local Elections.

“What occurred was wrong and I am extremely sorry for it. It should not have happened. While my name remains on the ballot paper, I now ask that voters do not consider me for election.

“Once again, I apologise for what happened. It should not have occurred. I will not be making further comment on this issue.”

According to a report on The Ditch, she received €15,000 and €15,000 worth of work on her house from the developer of a housing project for withdrawing her observation.

On RTE’s Drivetime programme, Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton said “obviously this is not appropriate behaviour no matter who you are”.

“I think her posters will be removed as well. [It is] completely unacceptable and I would expect that internally within our party there will be disciplinary procedures initiated.”

It comes as the Coalition moves forward with plans to make it a crime to demand “go away” money for not lodging appeals against property developments, amid concern about objectors exploiting legal loopholes by seeking payments from developers to withdraw actual or threatened appeals against housing and other building schemes.

On Tuesday, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien briefed Cabinet on a plan for a new ban on “spurious planning submissions and appeals” which will make it an offence to demand money or any other form of consideration in return for not taking a local authority planning appeal.

Draft planning legislation working its way through the Oireachtas will be changed to empower any developers who are asked for money to seek a High Court direction requiring the dismissal of an appeal to a local authority or An Bord Pleanála. A similar direction can be sought for the dismissal of judicial review proceedings before the court.

In the Dáil, Labour TD Duncan Smith called for a debate on ethics in the wake of the allegations against Ms Dwyer-Agrios. He said that “ethics are not optional extras” and pointed out that it was a decade since the Mahon planning tribunal report on planning corruption.

He asked Taoiseach Simon Harris what he would do as “a relatively new Taoiseach”.

Mr Harris said he was happy for the issue to be debated and told Mr Smith that the Cabinet had agreed earlier on Tuesday to “several hundred amendments to the Planning Bill”, which will be back before the Dáil in June.

The Taoiseach said that one of the amendments was related to “the issue of spurious objections or indeed seeking money from developers to withdraw and objection”. He added that this was “never an acceptable situation in any manner”.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times