Documents support corruption claims against junior minister for further education

Documents seen by Trinity News indicate a potential violation of section 177 of the Local Government Act 2001 by junior minister Niall Collins

Documents seen by Trinity News back up claims of improper conduct by Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins, relating to the purchase of public property in Limerick by his wife in 2008.

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information request made to Limerick County Council, were shared with Trinity News by digital news outlet The Ditch.

As reported by The Ditch, the documents indicate that Collins voted to sell public land which was then sold to his wife, Eimear O’Connor, in violation of laws surrounding councillors’ declaration of their interests.

Despite the severity of the potential offence, which carries a sentence of up to two years in prison, the issue has received no attention from national media since the article was published by The Ditch last Wednesday.

Additionally, Collins has yet to comment publicly about the claims.

Collins, a Fianna Fáil TD for Co. Limerick, has served as Minister of State for Skills and Further Education since 2020, being the second highest ranking TD in the newly-created department.

The Fianna Fail junior minister and ex-county councillor is alleged to have voted to sell public land which was then sold to his wife, Eimear O’Connor. 

Allegedly, his wife had written to the council one month previous to the vote, requesting to buy the land. It was the only request of interest in the land received by the council, according to documents obtained by The Ditch and seen by Trinity News. O’Connor now plans to sell the five social houses built on that land back to the council, and is in negotiations. 

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 made no such disclosure and voted for the land being sold to O’Connor. 

According to a marriage certificate obtained by The Ditch and seen by Trinity News, Collins married O’Connor in March 2000, despite Collins’ Wikipedia page indicating that the couple married in 2010. The Wikipedia page was updated in August 2017 by an IP address based in Limerick to state Collins married O’Connor in 2010.

A Limerick Leader article published in January 2007 during Collins’s campaign for the Dáil also refers to O’Connor as Collins’ wife. 

The Patrickswell site was advertised for sale twice, and the sale was made to O’Connor in August 2008. 

O’Connor received planning permission with business partner Noel Daly for the construction of five homes on the site in February 2020. 

According to The Ditch, in 2021, planning consultant for the site Fergal Cusack wrote in an email response to a sales query: “Niall Collins TD is the owner [of the Patrickswell site] and he is happy to meet with you… to discuss. Feel free to give him a call.” 

Cusack confirmed the contents of the email to The Ditch but said he was “not 100 percent sure to be honest” if Collins still owned the site.

In February, Collins denied ownership of the land and knowledge of a planning consultant to The Ditch. He told them: “I’m not the owner of the site at Patrickswell. It’s as simple as that.”

The Ditch published its most recent revelation into this story nearly a week ago and provided additional coverage. As of this morning, no other national news outlet has run a story on the issue. “Niall Collins” has also been trending on Twitter for almost a week since The Ditch first reported the allegations. 

The above documents seen by Trinity News, via The Ditch, appear to confirm allegations made against the TD. Opposition parties are yet to comment on the allegations and Collins has also yet to make a statement. 

Trinity News has contacted Collins for comment.

Kate Henshaw

Kate Henshaw is current Deptuty Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister Sociology and Social Policy student. She previously served as News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.

David Wolfe

David Wolfe is a Junior Sophister student of History and Political Science. He is the current Social Media and Managing Editor of Trinity News, having previously served as News Editor, Assistant News Editor and copyeditor.

Ellen Kenny

Ellen Kenny is the current Deputy Editor of Trinity News and a Senior Sophister student of Politics and Sociology. She previously served as Assistant Editor and Features Editor