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Tánaiste Micheál Martin Julien Behal via RollingNews.ie
Niall Collins

Tánaiste accuses The Ditch of 'political campaign' as website labels Martin's attack 'paranoid'

Online news outlet The Ditch reported that Niall Collins voted to sell council land that his wife later bought.

LAST UPDATE | 27 Apr 2023

TÁNAISTE MICHEÁL MARTIN has hit out at online news outlet The Ditch over controversy sparked by its reporting on the sale of council land to the wife of Fianna Fáil Junior Minister Niall Collins in 2008.

In a statement today, Collins said he is in “absolutely no doubt” that his actions in relation to the sale of the Limerick County Council land were “at all times legally correct”. 

In response to Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns TD about the lack of questions for Collins, Martin accused The Ditch of orchestrating a “political campaign” against certain politicians and being “selective and distorted” in its reporting.

“I don’t think this house should be a slave to or should be facilitating political campaigns organised by a platform”, Martin said.

“I don’t see The Ditch as an independent media platform at all.”

Martin criticised “the trending, the build-up, the hashtags, the algorithms, the paid ads, the berating of media for daring not to discuss it or cover it”.

He said there have been “extraordinary full frontal attacks” on politicians and the national broadcaster for “not following the trending operation”. 

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesperson for The Ditch described Martin’s comments as an “hysterical, paranoid attack”.

“The Ditch has never paid for advertising or attacked any Irish media for not covering our stories. Many do – Martin questioned both these outlets’ judgement, as well as all the readers who consider our stories to be in the public interest”, they said.

“The Ditch has two directors, Eoghan McNeill and Roman Shortall, who are two of the company’s three shareholders, the third being a holding company for lawyer Adam Connon.”

The spokesperson added that the site is funded by subscribers, as well as Web Summit, a multi-million euro international tech conference, “as part of the company’s support for Irish media”. 

“The Ditch’s investigative reporting has led to the resignations of two ministers in Martin’s government, as well as the ex-deputy chairperson of An Bord Pleanála – these consequences explain Martin’s conspiracism in the Dáil today”, they concluded.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar gave his backing to Collins last Thursday, telling reporters that he had full confidence in the Fianna Fáil TD.

The decision to sell the land was taken at a full council meeting, following a proposal by the Bruff local area committee a year earlier to sell off the land.

The Bruff committee was one of five local area committees on the old Limerick County Council, which was then made up of seven local councillors. 

This included Collins, before he was elected to the Dáil in the May 2007 General Election.

At its monthly meeting in January 2007, the committee opted to recommend that the sale of the land be put to a full council vote. Collins was present at the meeting and his wife, Eimear O’Connor, a GP, had previously written to the council through her solicitor to express interest in purchasing the land.

Minutes taken from that meeting, released under FOI, state that those present at the meeting were “in favour of disposal” of the land.

A recommendation to dispose of the land was proposed by Fianna Fáil councillor Leonard Enright and seconded by Fine Gael councillor Richard Butler.

No objections to the disposal of land were noted in the minutes, while there was also no mention of any contribution or recusal by Niall Collins. 

The controversy stems from Collins allegedly not recusing himself from the discussion or detailing that his wife had expressed an interest in the land.

The land was then purchased by O’Connor in 2008 at a cost of €148,000, following a full vote by Limerick County Council to sell the land. At this stage, Collins was no longer a councillor having been elected to the Dáil.

Additional reporting by Mairead Maguire

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