Fine Gael candidate got €15,000 to withdraw planning objection

A Fine Gael local election candidate had a developer pay her €15,000 and carry out €15,000 worth of work to her house so she would withdraw her objection to a housing development in county Louth.

Drogheda Rural candidate Marian Agrios threatened legal proceedings against the developer when she was told that the work on her home – which included a new Indian sandstone patio – would be delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Justice minister Helen McEntee endorsed first-time candidate Agrio’s campaign and the Louth woman has been canvassing and meeting with the Fine Gael hierarchy, including Simon Harris, Paschal Donohoe, Simon Coveney, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill and John Gahon. 

Government recently promised to make abuse of the planning system a criminal offence after it was revealed a former Fine Gael election candidate received payments of up to €50,000 in exchange for withdrawing strategically lodged planning objections.

When contacted by phone by The Ditch this afternoon and asked whether she thinks the agreement was appropriate, Agrios repeatedly said she needed “more details” before hanging up. 

‘Objection to An Bord Pleanála drafted and ready to go’ 

Property developer Wakeward Limited applied to Louth County Council in October 2019 for permission to build six extra residential units at its Balfeddock Manor development in Termonfeckin. The previous landowner had secured permission to build 51 units in 2016.

Fine Gael’s Marion Agrios and her husband Demetrios, who live beside the new housing estate, lodged a one-page objection to the development on November 24, 2019.

The sole grounds for their objection was the increase in the number of proposed houses “exceeds the limit of the local area plan”.

The development received permission in December 2019, but the Agrioses, as the sole objectors, still had the option of submitting an appeal to An Bord Pleanála – which would further delay the project.

According to internal documents seen by The Ditch, Marian Agrios met with the site developer on 10 January, 2020 and told them she had her “objection to An Bord Pleanála drafted and ready to go.”

Agrios initially sought €40,000 from the landowner but eventually agreed on €30,000 in exchange for withdrawing her objection.

Wakeward Limited agreed to pay Agrios and her husband €15,000 in cash and carry out €15,000 worth of work on her home in exchange for the withdrawal of her objection to the Termonfeckin development, according to a legal agreement signed by both parties on 20 January, 2020.

The agreement, seen by The Ditch, included a clause compelling Wakeward to complete the works on the Agrios home and pay the €15,000 cash by 30 September, 2020.

The work on Agrios’s house was initially expected to be completed by April 2020 but lockdown measures introduced during the pandemic hampered this.

In September 2020 Agrios emailed the developer, spelling out the high-quality patio work she wanted carried out on her home free of charge.

“The paving flags are to be mint Sahara sandstone. Edging to be 2 no. rows of square tumbled mint cobbles. I suggest the order is placed immediately,” wrote Agrios on 3 September, 2020.

Wakeward agreed to start the work on her property on 17 September, 2020. On 7 October, 2020 Agrios met with the site developers to discuss the progress on the patio being laid at her home and the fact that she had not yet received the €15,000 cash as part of the agreement signed earlier that year.

The developer wrote to Agrios later that day to explain the cause of the delay.

“As you already know, the site was forced closed on 14 March, 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The site did not recommence until 4 August, 2020. As a result of this five-month site closure, our building works are way behind schedule, however we pulled out all the stops to ensure we got your patio work completed as a matter of priority,” wrote Wakeward in an email to Agrios dated 7 October, 2020.

“Further to the Covid-19 pandemic, we have not moved any further with our planning application as everything is backed up as a result of the forced closures. This will cause a delay in the payment of the remaining amounts due to you,” it added.

Wakeward’s promises were not enough for Agrios who sent them a legal letter – threatening to take the developer to court – just five days later.

“We are instructed that your client has failed, refused and/or neglected to complete the works in a timely and/or reasonable manner, or at all. Unless the works are now undertaken and/or completed to our clients' satisfaction within seven days of the date hereof, we confirm that our instructions are to issue proceedings,” wrote TMR Fitzsimons solicitors on October 12, 2020.

In a separate letter sent on the same day, Agrios’s solicitor also threatened further legal proceedings unless the developer paid the €15,000 within seven days.

The following day her solicitor made Agrios’s demands clear: payment and work for dropping her objection. 

“I have spoken with my clients this morning and as requested I confirm that they have instructed me that once payment is made this week and the works are agreed to an agreed timeline and reasonably undertaken to adhere to the agreed timeline then and in that event they consider the agreement stands and they will not object to a planning application in accordance with the agreement,” wrote TMR Fitzsimons.

The work on Agrios’s property was completed on 13 November, 2020 and the €15,000 was transferred to her account that day.

Earlier this month Agrios posted a TikTok video claiming that she wants to “make home ownership attainable for our young adults”.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors