Collins knew of wife’s interest in buying Limerick county council land

Minister of State and Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins.

LIMERICK Minister of State Niall Collins has said he knew his wife was interested in buying council-owned land when he attended a council meeting which agreed the site should be sold on the open market.

The meeting of the Bruff Local Electoral Area committee in January 2007 was attended by Mr Collins who was then a Fianna Fáil member of Limerick County Council.

A month before the meeting Mr Collins’s wife, Dr Eimear O’Connor, had formally expressed an interest in the site through a solicitor.

The land was eventually sold to Ms O’Connor after her husband vacated his council seat when he was elected to the Dáil in the May 2007 General Election.

Two weeks ago, Minister Collins issued a statement in the Dail in which he said that “with the benefit of hindsight” he should have recused himself from the Bruff LEA meeting.

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Minister Collins said that neither he nor his wife had any pecuniary interest in the Council site at the time his wife sought an expression of interest in the land and when he attended the Bruff LEA meeting where it was agreed by councillors including Mr Collins that the land be sold on the open market.

He insisted no law was broken but did not take any questions arising out of his statement.

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has issued a formal complaint to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO) alleging Minister Collins actions breached the Code of Ethics for Councillors and the Local Government Act, which carries a maximum two-year jail sentence and a €10,000 fine.

This Tuesday, and for the first time since The Ditch website broke the story last month, Minister Collins said he knew of his wife’s expression of interest in the site prior to his attendance at the Bruff LEA meeting.

When asked if he was aware his wife had expressed an interest in the Council site on Main Street, Patrickswell, Minister Collins replied: “I did, yes, absolutely.”

However, he reiterated his personal view that his actions were not in breach of any laws.

In his complaint to SIPO, Deputy Murphy wrote that section 4.4 of the Councillor’s Code of Ethics states that councillors must disclose at a meeting of the local authority or its committees “any pecuniary or other beneficial interest, (of which they have actual knowledge) they or a connected person have in any matter to that comes before a meeting”.

It also says the councillor must withdraw from the meeting after disclosure and must not vote or take part in any discussion or consideration of the matter or seek to in any other aspect influence the decision making of the Council.

Mr Murphy stated: “By participating in the decision of the meeting of the Bruff Electoral Area Committee to put the land up for sale and not declaring his interest, nor stepping aside, Niall Collins breached section 4.4 of the Code of Conduct for Councillors and Section 177 of the Local Government Act.”

Minister Collins has also refused to answer questions relating to a separate controversy over the planning application for his family home, including where he was living when the application was made.

While he stated that he fulfilled the planning criteria, he refused to explain his living arrangements in 2001.

He said he didn’t know how an advertisement relating to a planning application appeared in a Limerick newspaper under the name “Niall O’Connor” on April 28, 2001.

Minister Collins’s family home planning application states that the date for the public notice for his family home was “April 28, 2001”.

However, the same planning file does not include the April 2001 newspaper notice – instead it includes one under the name “Niall Collins”, dated May 12, 2001.

Minister Collins told the Dail last March, and has maintained since that, he was “entirely satisfied” his planning application for his family home in County Limerick over 20 years ago met the correct planning criteria and was correctly adjudicated upon.

The Limerick Post attempted to contact TDs in Limerick to ask if they were satisfied with Mr Collins’ latest remarks and previous explanation about the matter, or did they feel he had further questions to answer?

Sinn Fein TD Maurice Quinlivan said he had “no comment” to make about the subject, while Green Party TD Brian Leddin, said he was satisfied overall with Mr Collin’s explanation, but that Mr Collins should have recused himself from the 2007 Bruff LEA meeting.

Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea, Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue, Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan as well as Minister Collins himself, could not be reached for comment.