Damien English gone from ministerial office but questions remain about actions

Fine Gael TD’s failure to declare ownership of Meath house in planning application for one-off rural home nearby raises further issues

The house at the centre of the controversy that led to the resignation of junior minister Damien English has seen better days.

The property – a small bungalow in Castlemartin, Co Meath – appears to be in need of some refurbishment. The front garden contains chopped-up trees and is overgrown.

There was no answer at the door when The Irish Times called on Thursday.

It was the Fine Gael TD’s failure to declare his ownership of the house in a planning application to Meath County Council for a one-off rural home nearby that led him to fall on his sword and go as minister of State for enterprise.


In his resignation statement, he said: “This was wrong, not up to the standard required and I apologise for doing so.”

It came after stories published on The Ditch website about the non-disclosure which also suggested English should have declared the property in his returns to the Dáil’s Register of Members’ Interests for more than a decade.

The Meath West TD’s spokesperson has said he did not declare the property in his returns to the Dáil’s Register of Members’ Interests as it was solely for family use.

The fall of Damien English

Listen | 21:16
Cormac McQuinn and Pat Leahy join Hugh Linehan to discuss the fallout from a report on The Ditch news website that Meath West Fine Gael TD Damien English made a false claim on a planning application which allowed him to build a second house. The news forced Deputy English to resign his post as a junior minister.

Investigation sought

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy has written to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) asking them to investigate. Sipo said that, due to the nature of its role as “an impartial oversight body, and in order to be fair to all parties involved”, it does not comment on individual matters, including whether or not it has received a complaint

Aside from his resignation statement, English has been silent on the questions raised by the controversy .

The Irish Times posed a series of questions to him, such as whether any members of his family lived in the Castlemartin house and why he did not refurbish or extend the house rather than seeking permission to build a larger bungalow a short distance away at Cookstown.

His office directed the questions to Fine Gael. The party did not respond last night.

People who wish to build one-off houses in rural areas must comply with a series of criteria showing links to the location and a need for the housing.

The rural development section of the Meath County Development Plan 2007-2013 outlines the criteria for non-farmers who wish to secure planning permission.

It says people considered local to an area include those “who have spent substantial periods of their lives, living in rural areas as members of the established rural community for a period in excess of five years and who do not possess a dwelling or who have not possessed a dwelling in the past, in which they have resided or who possess a dwelling in which they do not currently reside”.

Land Registry papers show English became the full owner of the Castlemartin property in 2004. He and his wife Laura later successfully applied for planning permission to build a bungalow on a larger piece of land in the Cookstown area in 2008. He did not disclose his ownership of the house in Castlemartin in a “Local Need Form” that must be submitted as part of planning applications to build in rural areas.

A Meath County Council planning report on English’s application from October 8th, 2008, states, “The applicant does not own a dwelling and has not owned a dwelling previously.”

It also says: “On the basis of the information submitted, the applicant has strong linkages specific to the application site and as such satisfies the Local Housing Need criteria.”

The Irish Times asked the council if applications for one-off rural houses are automatically rejected if the applicant already owns a property and if there are consequences for applicants that provide the council with incorrect information.

A statement did not offer a direct response to either question.

“All planning applications are assessed in accordance with national, regional and local policy and ministerial guidelines that are in operation at the time of the decision,” it said. “Once a final grant of planning permission is issued, the role of the planning authority is to ensure compliance with the conditions of the planning permission.”

It says it does not comment on any aspect of individual planning applications.

English has left ministerial office but questions remain about his actions and whether there will be further consequences.