Minister of State Niall Collins, said on Wednesday he could not 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, Co Limerick, 22 years ago.
The Fianna Fáil TD for Co Limerick has been in the spotlight since The Ditch website claimed in an article on February 27th that Mr Collins used his wife’s surname “Niall O’Connor” on a newspaper notice regarding a 2001 planning application to build a family home.
The article also alleges that Mr Collins was not living at his parents address at Red House Hill, Patrickswell, but was actually living in another home with his wife in Dooradoyle. It is expected he will address this in his personal statement to the Dáil this week.
Speaking on Wednesday after he viewed the 2001 application file at the planning department of Limerick City and County Council, Mr 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, and an original copy of the Limerick leader newspaper advert is on file - it’s ‘Niall Collins’, not ‘Niall O’Connor’ as has been suggested,” said Minister Collins.
When 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, the minister said: “I have no idea.”
A planning notice for an identical proposed development at Cloghkeating, Patrickswell, and advertised under the name “Niall O’Connor” appeared in the Limerick Leader newspaper on April 28th, 2001. Mr Collins indicated in a text message that he had no knowledge of the April planning notice, and enquired 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 in person at Limerick County Hall, does not contain the April 28th planning notice under the name “Niall O’Connor”. It does contain an identical newspaper notice under the name “Niall Collins” from May 12th, 2001.
A local authority planning source said planning applicants have a period of two weeks to make any changes required to planning notices before applications are considered.
When this reporter put it to Mr Collins that as he had seen the planning file, “you’re happy you’re on the right side (of it)?” he replied: “I undertook to take some time to look at the file, and I’ve looked at the file, and I’m now studying the documents on the file, and I’ll make a statement to the Dáil in due course.”
Despite the name “Niall Collins” being the applicant on the planning application form, the name “Neil Collins” also appears as the applicant 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.”
When pressed on this, and, why the applicant’s address is 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, after opposition parties called on him to do so.
The 2001 planning application, made prior to Mr Collins being elected to Limerick County Council and then to the Dail, was signed and submitted on his behalf by “John Redmond”, Architectural Technician, Lower Athea, Athea, according to the file.
The file also contains architectural drawings by Mr Redmond, of Mr Collins’ proposed Patrickswell family home, which received planning permission on January 3rd, 2002.
Mr 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 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 on Thursday, March 2nd, that 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.”
*This article was amended on Thursday, March 2nd.