Minister of State for Skills and Further Education Niall Collins has said he has “no doubt” that his actions in relation to the sale of land in Co Limerick in 2008 were legally correct.
Mr Collins was giving a “personal explanation” in the Dáil after it was revealed his wife purchased land from Limerick County Council in 2008, after he attended a meeting of an area committee where the sale was proposed.
Mr Collins said the process was “all done in full transparency” and the sale occurred when he was no longer a member of the council.
“No law was broken. I did not participate in any decision that authorised the sale of this land.
“This can only be done by the full county council in accordance with statutory process.
Mr Collins was a councillor for Limerick in early 2007 and was in attendance when the potential sale of the property in Patrickswell was brought to the Bruff Area Committee by the council executive on January 15th, 2007.
His wife, Dr Eimear O’Connor, was one of the people who had expressed an interest in the property.
Mr Collins said the committee, which is a subset of the council, agreed the property should be sold on the open market, but there was no vote taken.
He said the area committee contained seven councillors and does not have disposal rights in regard to the sale of council property.
Mr Collins said the council’s executive subsequently appointed an independent auctioneer to sell the site and offers were made over a period of six months.
He stopped being a councillor for Limerick in May 2007 when he became a TD.
He said his wife’s offer of €148,000 was the highest bid and this was notified to the council on September 14th, 2007. The sale was approved by a full county council on September 22nd, 2008.
“It is clear from the forgoing that the property went on sale on the open market with an independent auctioneer appointed by the council.
“Anyone could have bid on the property and indeed a number of offers were received over a period of six months or so.”
He said the sale occurred 18 months later when he was no longer a member of the council.
“When the council executive recommended to the Bruff Area Committee that the property should be put up for sale in January 2007, neither I nor my wife had any pecuniary or beneficial interest in that property.”
However, he said “in hindsight” it would have been better if he had not participated in the meeting.
“Even though it is absolutely clear that my wife did not benefit in any way from my attendance at the January 2007 meeting.”
He said it was his understanding that he was not participating in a discussion that contravened the 2001 Local Government Act.
Opposition TDs had requested an opportunity to ask Mr Collins questions, however this was not permitted under the format of the session.
'Organised political campaigns'
Earlier, Tánaiste Micheál Martin criticised The Ditch, the website which broke the story, arguing the Dáil should not become a "slave" to what he described as "organised political campaigns" by the news outlet.
Mr Martin said he does not believe The Ditch is an independent news outlet.
"The whole agenda is: create the campaign, get to the paid ads, get it trending, attack media if they don't cover it... and then get into the Dáil for questions and answers.
"Well, we'll take our call on this, and we'll make our judgement call on this as to the balance on how we approach it in terms of questions and things like that, but I'm very clear now what's going on here... there's a political organisation out there, it's not an independent media platform by any stretch of the imagination."