A Fine Gael councillor falsely claimed to be a “single parent” living in rented accommodation to secure planning permission to build a second house.
Councillor Suzanne Jamal, who shares the Meath East constituency with colleague Helen McEntee, submitted bogus documentation to planners and falsely claimed not to own any other property. She claimed her marriage to her husband – her campaign manager during the period concerned – had broken up and that she was living in rental accommodation.
A council planner had to remind Jamal that information about her property ownership was “readily available” in public databases. A senior council official however twice overruled the planner's recommendations to refuse permission and Jamal’s application for her second house was approved.
This decision was later overturned after a third party successfully appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
In September 2015 the Fine Gael councillor applied to Meath County Council for permission to build a 2,000 square foot bungalow at Lougher just outside Kentstown.
She used the name Suzanne Leonard-Jamal and claimed to have been living next door to the site of the proposed development, owned by a third party, for the preceding three years.
The following month, in October 2015, a local couple objected, telling the council that Jamal was registered to vote at her home in neighbouring Balrath.
Jamal responded by falsely claiming that she was a “single parent” living in rental accommodation for the past seven years.
“I resided in Balrath from 2002 until the break up of my marriage in 2009,” she claimed, adding, “I have lived in private rented accommodation for seven years and I wish to now provide a permanent family home for me and my children.”
This was false.
Jamal had been living with her general practitioner husband during the period she claimed to be a struggling single parent in rental accommodation.
Jamal’s husband was her campaign manager during the 2009 and 2014 local elections and they were pictured together in a local newspaper celebrating her election to Meath County Council in 2014.
Jamal’s Fine Gael website profile, electoral register and Companies Registration Office personal information all listed her address as Balrath where she has owned a house with her husband since 2002.
In June 2014 she was appointed a director of Meath Arts Centre DAC and listed the family home she shares with her husband as her residential address.
Council executive planner Deirdre Fallon shared the concerns of the third-party objector and referred to publicly available information on Jamal’s property ownership.
“It is stated on the local needs form that the applicant does not own and has not sold property… The applicant would be advised that information relating to property ownership is readily available on the Land Registry online system… It appears that the applicant owns/owned property,” wrote Fallon in her report dated 12 November, 2015.
“It is not considered that adequate supporting documentation has been submitted to demonstrate that the applicant has a rural based housing need at Lougher,” added Fallon.
Fallon recommended that permission be refused because Jamal had failed to demonstrate a rural housing need.
Later that day however a senior council official intervened on Jamal’s behalf.
Senior executive officer Michael Griffin ordered that Jamal be “given an opportunity to substantiate her local needs claim”.
After Griffin’s intervention Jamal submitted a letter from the owner of a house next door to the site where she proposed to build her second home. This letter claimed Jamal had lived with this property owner since 2012.
The council planner submitted a second report but again recommended that permission be refused.
Griffin intervened a second time.
“I am entirely satisfied… that the applicant has no interest in the former family home,” said Griffin in overruling Fallon and granting permission for Jamal’s new house.
An Bord Pleanála eventually overruled Meath County Council in July 2016 and refused permission for Jamal’s second house following an appeal from the couple who originally objected to the proposal.
Jamal was first elected to Meath County Council in 2009 and was reelected in 2014 and 2019. Last week she was selected to run again for Fine Gael at the upcoming 2024 local elections in the Ashbourne Local Electoral Area in county Meath.
The Monaghan native is an ally of justice minister Helen McEntee whom she canvassed for at the last general election in 2020.
Jamal declined to comment.