The leaders of the government coalition have said Junior Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins TD should have “recused” himself from the local area committee meeting discussing the disposal of council land that was later sold to his wife.
Speaking at a press conference for the government’s Housing for All Strategy, Tánasite Micheál Martin said a local area committee has no statutory authority to dispose of the property.
He said Collins did not break the law by attending the meeting.
In 2007, Collins, then a member of Limerick County Council, attended a local area meeting where the disposal of council property was discussed after a solicitor expressed interest on behalf of Collins’ wife, Eimear O’Connor, in purchasing the property.
Martin said Collins was not a member of Limerick County Council when the council sold the property to O’Connor in 2008 as he had been elected to the Dáil.
However, Martin said Collins’ relationship to O’Connor should have been addressed at the local area meeting.
“In hindsight, it would have been better that that particular factor was identified and recused,” he said.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan also agreed that Collins did not break the law but it would have been “better practice” for Collins to excuse himself from the local area meeting relating to the disposal of the property.
Varadkar said: “The suggestion that some sort of law was broken or that he was involved in authorising the sale of this property just isn’t correct.”
In a statement last night, Collins denied the allegations saying that neither he nor his spouse had “any pecuniary interest or beneficial interest” in the property.
Martin said Collins is prepared to go before the Dáil to make a statement and the party Whip is making arrangements for a statement.
Collins has been accused of improper conduct relating to the purchase of public property in Limerick by his wife in 2008.
Documents released following a freedom of information request by The Ditch show that Collins’ wife had been the sole applicant who had expressed interest in the council property, in a letter from Patricia O’Connor Solicitors on her behalf.
In his statement the junior minister said: “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”.
The Patrickswell site was advertised for sale twice following council approval, 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.
Collins has been married to O’Connor since March 2000, according to the couple’s marriage certificate which was seen by Trinity News.
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”.