Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth never declared property used to secure €350,000 public funding

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth has repeatedly failed to declare an interest in a property she twice claimed to own in planning applications.

The Cavan–Monaghan TD previously secured €350,000 in state aid – which was later withdrawn – from a Fianna Fáil minister for the property through an entity that does not appear to have ever existed.

Smyth, a former county councillor, has never declared an interest in the property in her annual ethics returns since becoming a TD in 2016. It’s a criminal offence under ethics legislation for councillors to fail to declare their property interests.

‘They state the extension is to be applied for in the name of Niamh Smyth’

In June 2008 Niamh Smyth and her mother Maura successfully applied to Cavan County Council for permission to refurbish and extend a former chapel on Adelaide Row in Bailieborough, county Cavan.

Smyth, then secretary of her local Fianna Fáil cumann, declared she was the co-owner of the property on the planning application form.

Months later, in September 2008, it was announced that Smyth had secured €350,000 in funding from Fianna Fáil Minister Martin Cullen’s Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism for the conversion of the chapel to an artists' studio and events space. The grant was awarded to Bailieborough Arts and Cultural Centre, despite no such entity ever existing, according to CRO records.

Smyth was elected to Cavan County Council for Fianna Fáil the following year.

In September 2014, Smyth again applied to Cavan County Council for permission to build an extension to the former Methodist chapel.

Smyth had been running dance classes in the property for a number of years and she declared in her application form that she was the legal owner. Smyth claimed the extension would be used as a "youth cafe", following a request for further information from Cavan County Council planners.

Six local residents objected to the Fianna Fáil councillor’s plans and she subsequently withdrew her application.

On 27 January, 2015 Smyth wrote to a couple who had objected to her application.

"It is of huge disappointment that further to your objections to our proposed youth cafe project and my conversation with you and your mother before Christmas we have decided not to proceed… we will however apply for planning for a small extension to facilitate children attending existing classes," wrote Smyth.

Smyth’s letter included a letterhead with the name "Bailieborough Arts and Cultural Centre" – the entity that was awarded €350,000 in public funding – and her constituency office phone number.

A month later, in February 2015, Smyth’s mother applied for permission for an extension to the property for use as a "youth education centre".

On this occasion there were four objections to the development – one of which noted a discrepancy regarding the property’s ownership.

"The applicant name is Maura Smyth but on page one of the application from the architect they state the extension is to be applied for in the name of Niamh Smyth," read the objection.

Another objector told the Cavan County Council planning department that the Smyths were not running a "charitable organisation" but a "profit-making commercial enterprise" at the chapel.

Permission was granted for the development in February 2016 despite the objections of local residents.

The same year, Smyth’s €350,000 grant aid was withdrawn by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht after she had failed to commence works on the chapel within the agreed period.

Smyth’s council and Dáil ethics returns show she hasn’t declared an interest in the Bailieborough property since at least 2012.

The Cavan native served as a councillor from 2009 to 2016. She was first elected to the Dáil in 2016 and retained her seat following the 2020 general election.

Contacted this morning by The Ditch, Smyth said she would "revert... as soon" as she had "the information gathered" but failed to respond by time of publication.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors