McEntee admits ‘mistakenly’ using title in planning intervention for family friend

Fine Gael TD Helen McEntee intervened in a planning application on behalf of a family friend and wrongly used the title of minister for justice even though she was on leave at the time. 

The applicant had been refused permission for the same development just four months previous but was successful this time around. An Bord Pleanála however later overturned the decision, with an objector arguing that the two applications – the first unsuccessful, the second successful – were identical. 

A spokesperson claimed McEntee “mistakenly” used the minister for justice title when she asked council planners to “look favourably” on her constituent’s September 2021 planning permission application.

(Not) minister for justice

The applicant in late September 2021 applied to Meath County Council for permission to build a new 2,000 square foot home in Castletown, county Meath.

McEntee wrote to the council four weeks later on behalf of her constituent. 

“I am writing to offer my full support to (the applicant’s) planning application. (The applicant) and her family are well known to me. (Her) parents and extended family all live in this area and (she) wishes to live beside her family and her community. I hope you can look favourably on this planning application,” wrote McEntee in her email dated October 21, 2021.

Though McEntee was on leave from her ministerial role, she signed the email “Minister for Justice Helen McEntee”.

She sent the email from her Oireachtas address but used a title that then belonged to Heather Humphreys who was appointed to the role during the Meath East TD’s six-month leave period from April to November 2021.

Meath County Council granted permission for the development on 16 November, 2021 even though just four months earlier they had refused the applicant’s previous bid to build a house on the same site.

A third party appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanála on the grounds that the application was identical to the previous one refused by the council and that the applicant did not have a local housing need. 

The ABP inspector’s March 2022 report noted that “the applicant acknowledges that her parents own two (rental) properties” on the site. 

In May 2022 ABP overturned the council’s decision because, in its ruling, the applicant did not meet the local “housing needs criteria” and that “the proposed development would be contrary to ministerial guidelines”.

A spokesperson for McEntee admitted to The Ditch that she had wrongly used the justice minister title.

“The digital signature on the email used by the minister and her constituency office for constituency purposes mistakenly continued to refer to the title of minister for justice”, said the spokesperson.

“As is often the case with constituency TDs, minister McEntee, as a Meath East TD, offered her support to a constituent’s planning application. During her period of maternity leave, when minister McEntee stepped down as minister for justice, she continued some work as a constituency TD and her constituency office continued to provide a full service to constituents during this period,” added the spokesperson.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors