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Fine Gael minister Damien English resigns over planning application 14 years ago

‘It is clear to me that I failed to inform Meath County Council about ownership of my house in Castlemartin,’ Damien English said in a statement.

Junior Enterprise minister Damien English. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Junior Enterprise minister Damien English. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

12th January 2023

Junior Minister Damien English has resigned after questions were raised about a planning application he made 14 years ago.

Mr English said he informed the Taoiseach on Wednesday night of his decision to resign as a Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

“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 about ownership of my house in Castlemartin,” he said in a statement.

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

“I would like to thank the people of Meath West for their ongoing support as their TD. I will continue to serve them and work hard on their behalf in the constituency.

“I thank the Taoiseach and parliamentary colleagues for their support during my time as Minister of State. I will continue to support the Taoiseach and colleagues in Government as they continue to deliver on the programme for Government.

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

Mr English also posted a video statement on social media announcing his resignation.

Mr English’s resignation follows a story published by The Ditch website on Wednesday which said he did not disclose that he already owned a house in Castlemartin, Co Meath, when making a planning application to Meath County Council to build a one-off rural home in Cookstown in Kells, Co Meath.

The law requires that anyone wishing to apply to build a one-off home must declare that they do not already own a home or owned a home in the past in which they have resided.

Mr English’s planning application said he did not own a dwelling – despite the fact that the long-serving Fine Gael Meath West TD did own the house at Castlemartin, which The Ditch on Monday reported he had not declared on his Dáil register of members’ interests for over ten years.

The Ditch further reported that Mr English had in March 2006, when he was an Opposition TD, spoken about the dangers of not being truthful to a local authority about housing developments.

“A person building a one-off house cannot afford to be cheeky with the council or to take any risks. These people face the full rigour of the law and the council comes down on them if they step sideways,” the Fine Gael TD said in the Dáil in March 2006

In an earlier statement issued on Wednesday, Mr English’s spokesperson argued that Sipo guidelines on compliance with the provisions of the Ethics in Public Office Acts “are clear on the matter”.

They cited guidance which states that an office holder is not required to disclose information “regarding his or her private home or that of a spouse or civil partner, and any subsidiary or ancillary land to such home that is not being used or developed primarily for commercial purposes”.

The guidance further states: “Also excluded is a holiday home and any other private home used by an office holder or his or her family, and any land that is subsidiary or ancillary to it which is required for its amenity or convenience and is not being used or developed primarily for commercial purposes.”

Mr English’s spokesperson added: “As per this guidance from Sipo, the property was not included on the declaration form as it is solely for use by him and his family.”

Prior to Mr English’s resignation, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy, however, made a formal complaint to Sipo alleging the Fine Gael TD for Meath West breached the Ethics in Public Office Act.

Mr Murphy argues that the matter requires further investigation.

In a statement, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he agreed with Mr English’s resignation.

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

“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 on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Minister of State for Integration Joe O’Brien said Mr English’s behaviour “wasn’t up to the standard” expected of elected representatives and he made the “right decision”.

“Well, I think Damien has made the right decision. I learned of the news very recently myself. It’s clear that his behaviour wasn’t up to the standard of what is expected, rightly expected, of all of us in public office and I think he’s made the right decision today. I have to say, I don’t know a lot of the detail only the fact that he owns a home that he didn’t declare. That’s quite a serious omission, and I think he made the right decision to resign today,” he said.

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the reshuffled Cabinet is “in some respects following the pattern” of the last one in terms of “ministerial resignations”.

“But I think Damien has made the right call,” she added.

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