Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins has denied allegations of improper conduct relating to the purchase of public property.
Collins has denied that he or his spouse had “any pecuniary interest or beneficial interest” in a property sold by Limerick County Council in 2008.
The minutes of a meeting on 15 January 2007 state that “a number of enquiries” had been received about the potential sale of the site. Documents released following a freedom of information request by The Ditch show that Collins’ wife Eimear O’Connor had been the sole applicant who had expressed interest, in a letter from Patricia O’Connor Solicitors on her behalf.
In a statement this evening, the junior minister said: “In September 2008 at a statutory meeting of Limerick County Council the sale of a property in Patrickswell was approved and sold following a transparent and open sales process, which was open to all.”
“For the record I was not a member of the council in September 2008, having been elected as a TD in May 2007,” Collins continued. “Prior to the sale in 2008, the property was advertised in the local public press.”
He said neither he nor his wife had any “pecuniary or beneficial interest in the [Patrickswell] property” when the council recommended the property should be put up for sale and “there was no disagreement to the executive’s recommendation”.
A letter to the housing services of Limerick County Council dated in December 2006 expressed interest in the “disposal of the property” at Patrickswell on behalf of O’Connor.
The 2006 council meeting minutes state that the final method of sale “was not yet decided” and “would be brought back to an area meeting again for further consideration”.
Collins’ statement does not address his participation in a meeting which discussed the sale of land in which his wife had expressed interest.
According to the minutes from the meeting of Limerick County Council at the time, all eight members present, including a Councillor Collins, “were in favour of the proposal”, which was proposed by Councillor Enright and seconded by Councillor Butler to proceed as outlined.
The Patrickswell site was subsequently advertised for sale twice, and the sale was made to O’Connor in August 2008 following another council vote.
A letter from the council dated September 2007 confirmed O’Connor was the “proposed purchaser” of the site and was approved planning permission.
Under section 177 of the Local Government Act 2001 “Disclosure by member of local authority of pecuniary or other beneficial interests”, representatives are required to “disclose the nature of his or her interest, or the fact of a connected person’s interest at the meeting, and before discussion or consideration of the matter commences”.
The representative is also required to “withdraw from the meeting for so long as the matter is being discussed or considered, and, accordingly, he or she shall take no part in the discussion or consideration of the matter and shall refrain from voting in relation to it”.
Collins has been married to O’Connor since March 2000, according to the couple’s marriage certificate.