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Tuesday 28 November 2023 Dublin: 3°C
Sam Boal/ Damien English (file photo)

Fine Gael TD Damien English resigns as junior minister after reports about property ownership

English confirmed that he failed to inform Meath County Council about ownership of a house in Castlemartin.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 12th 2023, 1:15 PM

FINE GAEL TD Damien English has resigned his position as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

It follows revelations on 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 for more than a decade.

In a statement released this morning, English said he informed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar of his decision last night.

He 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.”

English also shared his resignation announcement via a video on Twitter.

He stated: “I thank the Taoiseach and parliamentary colleagues for their support during my time as Minister of State. I will continue to support the Taoiseach and colleagues in Government as they continue to deliver on the programme for Government.

“I would like to recognise the support and sacrifice of Laura and my family at all times.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said in a statement released minutes after English’s one that the TD had offered his resignation as Minister of State last night.

“He informed me that 14 years ago, when applying for planning permission, he made a declaration to Meath County Council that was not correct.

“It was his view given the circumstances that his position was not tenable. I agreed and accepted his resignation.”

Speaking in Hillsborough this morning, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said that English had made the right decision by resigning.

“I think he took the right decision in light of the issue that had arisen.

“I think it’s very difficult personally for him. I think he’s been a good minister and a good parliamentarian. I’ve known him for a quite a number of years. He engages, he’s very active.”

“I think he made the right decision in the wider sense given what transpired.”

However, Martin rejected assertions that the Government had a transparency issue and said that he didn’t believe English needed to resign as a TD.

Quite a serious omission

English is the second junior minister to resign from office in recent months over a failure to properly declare property interests.

Fianna Fail’s Robert Troy, who also worked in the Department of Enterprise, resigned last summer amid a controversy over his property interests – another story broken by The Ditch.

The circumstances around Troy’s resignation were 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.

In English’s case, he rejected claims 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Green Party TD Joe O’Brien, Minister of State at the Department of Rural and Community Development, said that not declaring a property was “quite a serious omission” by English.

“It’s clear that his behaviour wasn’t up to the standards of what is expected, rightly expected, of all of us in public office. I think he’s made the right decision today,” O’Brien added.

Speaking on the same programme, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said she didn’t know the full details of the case but also believed English “made the right call” by resigning.

Referencing Troy, she said: “This is now the, I think, the second Minister of State to resign and it seems the new reshuffled Government is in some respects following the pattern of the last run of ministerial resignations.”

Contains reporting by Christina Finn, Órla Ryan and Tadgh McNally

This is a breaking news article and will be updated.

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