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Sam Boal
Damien English

Property questions take out another minister but this resignation is different to the Troy saga

English’s resignation is solely due to a 2008 planning application.

PROPERTY OWNERSHIP DECLARATIONS – or the lack thereof – resulted in the stepping down of another junior minister today. 

Fine Gael TD Damien English resigned his position as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment following revelations reported by The Ditch about a planning application made by English in 2008.

The news website reported that the junior minister had not declared his ownership of a residential property on a planning application form over a decade ago. 

Public scrutiny of politicians’ ownership of housing has ramped up in recent months after it was discovered that Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy failed to declare several of his properties on the Dáil’s register of members’ interests, leading to his resignation as a junior minister.

The controversy ignited a public debate on whether politicians should be allowed to be landlords in the midst of a housing crisis and how transparent the system is around property ownership- particularly ownership of properties that are rented out. 

Following the Troy controversy it was discovered that others, including Health Minister Stephen Donnelly and Sinn Féin TD Johnny Guirke, had failed to properly register their rental properties with the Residential Tenancies Board.

Much of the controversy over the past year about properties owned by politicians has centred around rental property and the fact that TDs are also landlords.

It has also put focus on the rules – what should and should not need to be declared – and whether office holders are being transparent enough around their property affairs.

Two ministers, two different reasons to resign 

While the Troy controversy, which was also broken by The Ditch news website, has shone a light on such issues, the circumstances around Troy’s resignation are very different to that of English.

The initial controversy around Troy was due to him failing to declare all of his rental property dealings to the Dáil’s register of members’ interests.

He made a total of seven amendments to the Dáil register and revealed that he owns or part-owned 11 properties. 

It was the fortnight of apologies, clarifications and the drip-feeding of information that ultimately led to Troy’s resignation last year. 

In English’s case, he rejected claims this week that he breached Standards in Public Office (SIPO) legislation by failing to disclose information on his ownership of a residential property – saying he was was not required under ethics legislation to declare his ownership of the property as it is for family use.

The Ditch reported on the property he owned, including that it was not declared on his declaration of interests, earlier this week.

According to the guidelines: “An office holder is not required under this heading to disclose information regarding his or her private home or that of a spouse or civil partner and any subsidiary or ancillary land to such home that is not being used or developed primarily for commercial purposes.”

Any holiday homes and any other private homes used by an office holder or his or her family also do not need to be declared on the register of interests.

In fact, Tánaiste Micheál Martin, who also has other properties, such as a holiday home, has in the past also defended not including them on the register, stating that this is not set out in the rules.

In his statement today, English said: “Yesterday in an online article, questions were raised about my planning application from 14 years ago.

“I reviewed this application, made in 2008, and it is clear to me that I failed to inform Meath County Council about ownership of my house in Castlemartin.

“This was wrong, not up to the standard required and I apologise for doing so.

“I would like to thank the people of Meath West for their ongoing support as their TD. I will continue to serve them and work hard on their behalf in the constituency.”

So English’s resignation is not due to his failure to declare the property he owned on the register of members’ interests – but is solely due to the former junior minister’s 2008 planning application for another house, in which he now lives.

In that application he wrongly told Meath County Council he did not own a house, and would therefore meet the council’s ‘housing need’ requirements.

Screenshot - 2023-01-12T123642.212 Local Need form screengrab where the question is asked if the applicant owns property.

A Local Housing Need must be demonstrated by persons seeking to build a house in rural areas. On the local need form, which must be completed for all rural housing Planning Applications in Meath, the form asks a number of questions, such as the address of the applicant and specifically if the applicant owns property.

English has acknowledged that he declared on this form that he did not own property, when he in fact did – and therefore both he and the Taoiseach decided that English’s position was untenable.