LIMERICK Minister of State Niall Collins cannot explain how the name ‘Niall O’Connor’ appeared in a newspaper notice of his intention to build a house on land owned by his father at Cloghkeating, Patrickswell 22 years ago.
The controversy has followed the Fianna Fáil TD since The Ditch website claimed in an article last Monday that Mr Collins used the name “Niall O’Connor” on the notice of a 2001 planning application to build his own home.
The website also stated that Mr Collins had claimed that he was living in his parents’ home at Red House Hill, Patrickswell, when he was actually living in a property he owned in Father Russell Road, Doordoyle.
Speaking to the Limerick Post after he examined the planning application file at the Limerick City and County Council planning department on Wednesday, Minister Collins said the planning file does not include any reference to “Niall O’Connor”.
“I’ve checked the planning file and the correct newspaper advertisement is on file, in the name of Niall Collins, published in the Limerick Leader. An original copy of the Limerick Leader newspaper advert is on file – it’s ‘Niall Collins’, not ‘Niall O’Connor’ as has been suggested,” he said.
Asked if he had any explanation or theory as to how a planning notice relating to his family home, including the name “Niall O’Connor”, appeared in an article published by The Ditch, he said: “I have no idea.”
However, a planning notice for an identical proposed development at Cloghkeating, Patrickswell under the name “Niall O’Connor” was uncovered by the Limerick Post in the Limerick Leader edition of April 28, 2001.
Mr Collins indicated in a text message that he had no knowledge of this planning notice, and asked who had placed the notice in the newspaper.
The Ditch article claimed that after receiving planning for the family house in Patrickswell, Mr Collins submitted an updated application using his Dooradoyle address in 2006, for construction of two stables at the Patrickswell property.
The Collins planning file, which can be viewed online or at Limerick County Hall, does not contain the April 28 planning notice under the name “Niall O’Connor”. It does however contain an identical newspaper notice under the name “Niall Collins” from May 12, 2001.
A local authority source said planning applicants have a period of two weeks to make any changes required to planning notices before applications are considered.
Asked if he was happy with what he had seen in the planning file, he replied: “I undertook to take some time to look at the file. I’ve looked at the file and I’m now studying the documents on the file, and I’ll make a statement to the Dail in due course.”
Despite the name “Niall Collins” being on the planning application form, the name “Neil Collins” also appears multiple times throughout the planning file.
When asked if he could explain why this is the case, Mr Collins replied: “I can’t. All the planning documents are in the name Niall Collins. That’s it”.
When pressed on this, and, why the applicant’s address was given as his parents’ address in Patrickswell – and not his then home in Dooradoyle, Mr Collins replied: “‘Niall Collins’ is on all the documents, okay.”
The Limerick TD said he would decide “in the coming days” when he would address the Dáil about the controversy.
The 2001 planning application, made prior to Mr Collins’ election to Limerick County Council and the Dáil, was signed and submitted on his behalf by John Redmond, Architectural Technician, Lower Athea.
The file also contains architectural drawings of Mr Collins’ proposed Patrickswell family home, which received planning permission on January 3, 2002.
Minister Collins, who has always maintained he “acted correctly” in his planning application, rejected allegations by The Ditch that he initially used the name “Niall O’Connor” to conceal his ownership of his house in Dooradoyle.
The address provided for Mr Collins on the planning application is his parents address at “Red House Hill, Patrickswell”.
It is stated on the application form that Mr Collins has been living at his parents address for “30 years” from “1971-2001”.
Mr Collins’ application form, which has been seen by the Limerick Post, asks that he “clearly demonstrate your need for the proposed dwelling”.
This is answered: “Applicant proposes to build his own family home and move out of his parents house.”
However, Mr Collins said the requirement to demonstrate housing need was not policy in the county development plan until 2004.
He said the county plan at the time allowed for residential development in pressure areas if applicants met any of four specific criteria.
Mr Collins said he satisfied two of the four criteria including that, “I lived in the area pre-1990, and that I was the son of a long-term resident landowner.”
Mr Collins said: “I qualified for a planning permission based on the criteria set out in the county development plan, regardless of what was in the application form … regardless of what is said anywhere, I qualified under the planning criteria.”