Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth asked unemployed people on state placement to work on site bought by husband

Fianna Fáil TD Niamh Smyth asked Cavan County Council to have unemployed people on a government placement carry out work on a site bought by her husband. Smyth was cathaoirleach of the council municipal district at the time.

Other councillors at the meeting agreed that people taking part in the state's Gateway Programme – which aimed to “boost” unemployed people’s “motivation and confidence” – should work on the entrance to a site on which Smyth’s family home was built.

The home was built on lakeside land despite being zoned for recreational use for the local community. Smyth’s husband received planning permission for the 2,750 square foot home in 2016 despite the planner’s report noting that the laneway to the site was “saturated with water and was not accessible”.

Last week The Ditch reported that Smyth failed to declare her interest in a commercial property she twice claimed to own in planning applications.

‘Calling on Cavan County Council to dedicate gateway staff to clear (the) stone wall’

Niamh Smyth on March 23, 2015 chaired a meeting of the Bailieborough Cootehill Municipal District. Councillors discussed three “member’s items”, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Smyth wanted to discuss the deployment of unemployed people on a state-funded work placement scheme.

“Calling on Cavan County Council to dedicate gateway staff to clear stone wall on Cavan Road at Bailieborough Town Lake to reveal the beautiful natural lake,” she asked.

The “gateway staff” to whom Smyth referred were people taking part in a Department of Social Protection scheme. The Gateway Programme aimed to “improve the employability and work readiness of participants by providing them with opportunities to put work skills into practice and to learn new ones”.

Council official Pat Gaynor saw no issue with Smyth’s request, saying, “There would be no problem dedicating gateway staff for this project once it did not involve council core work.”

The entrance to what would soon become Smyth’s residence was subsequently resurfaced, though it is unclear who funded the works.

‘It would be nice to see the lake’

Ten months after the meeting, in December 2015, Smyth’s husband James Conaty applied to Cavan County Council for permission to build a house on the site. Smyth, who married Conaty in 2013, wasn’t named on the planning application.

Speaking about Smyth’s request for work to be carried out on the entrance to the site, her council colleague Gaynor had “agreed it would be nice to see the lake and to perhaps lower a portion of the wall and erect a railing”.

It emerged in the planning application for Smyth’s new home that the same stone wall would need to be substantially lowered as a condition for receiving permission.

In their report the council planner concluded that Smyth’s husband needed to submit further information before a decision could be made on the application. One of these requests concerned the stone walls at the site’s entrance that Smyth had asked the council to clear.

“Existing stone walls obstruct sight lines. Applicant will need to secure permission to reduce the level of these stone walls,” read the report.

In correspondence dated April 1, 2016 Conaty’s agent, architect Niall Smith, responded to the council with proposals for lowering the walls. Neither Conaty nor Smyth had permission from the authorities to lower the wall, which acted as a boundary to the town lake, a public amenity.

The planner wrote that the laneway to the site was “saturated with water and was not accessible by either car or foot”, further noting that the municipal engineer had raised concerns about the “high water level in adjoining lake”.

The planner also acknowledged that a section of the site wasn’t zoned for residential development but rather for recreational use. “Part of site located within development envelope of Bailieborough and zoned recreation/amenity,” wrote the planner.

According to the 2014-2020 Cavan County Development Plan “only community facilities and other recreational uses will be considered” on land zoned for “amenity and recreation”.

Permission for the house was granted at the end of April 2016 despite part of the site being zoned for recreational use and the local authority’s concerns about potential flooding.

In December 2022 the Bailieborough Cootehill Municipal District raised the issue of recent flooding at the lake.

Smyth, who is now separated from Conaty, has lived in the property since it was completed around six years ago.

When asked why it granted permission for Smyth’s house a spokesperson for Cavan County Council said “all information pertaining to your query is contained within the decision and associated reports”.

Smyth declined to comment.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors