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Conflict of Interest in Meath

Aisling Dempsey voted for dezonings that will increase value of lands
owned by the company she works for

By Frank Connolly

Councillors, led by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil members, decided over recent months to remove the residential zoning of 319 hectares of land across the county, ostensibly to conform with climate-change policies.

A number of independent councillors who opposed the de-zonings are threatening court action if the Council management, led by chief executive Jackie Maguire, does not give them access to the live recordings of the Zoom meetings during which the unprecedented motions were passed in recent months. These councillors rejected an offer that they could listen to the recordings under supervision and only if they inform the council in advance of the particular items they wished to hear.

Independent Councillor Brian Fitzgerald and Michael Gallagher of Sinn Féin are among the members who have submitted an FOI request seeking the Zoom recordings of all discussions on the new development plan for the County. Ironically, the councillors who are seeking the recordings boycotted meetings when they were refused access to them in late 2020, so they were not present when significant de-zonings were decided.

What is at stake in this controversy is not just transparency as some property developers and others in the industry have complained that the reduction in the amount of zoned land will contribute to an increase in prices for those seeking to buy new homes in the county.

Among those councillors who supported the de-zonings was Aisling Dempsey, daughter of former environment minister, Noel Dempsey, who also attended some of the virtual Zoom meetings. He is a director of Noel Dempsey Consulting and a registered lobbyist. On 26 November last, Aisling Dempsey spoke at a Special Planning meeting of MCC against a motion put forward by Fitzgerald who was seeking to halt the raft of de-zonings proposed in the draft development plan. Councillor Dempsey made it clear that she supported the objection by Jackie Maguire to the motion blocking the de-zoning of lands across Meath. The CEO had warned that there was little chance of developing the lands for a variety of reasons.

“I accept the reasoning around the CEO’s response, that it would be inappropriate to include this as an objective. I see little point in zoning in the optimum locations if we know there is no hope of them actually being developed out. But we need to do this on this occasion to comply with legislation. Next time around we will have stronger arguments to move zoning – use it or lose it being employed until then. We need to know annually how many houses are started, how many are finished and how many of the landholdings we zone as part of this CDP actually progress”, Dempsey said in a note of her speech issued to the media.

Dempsey made it clear she supported the objection by the Council CEO to the motion blocking the de-zoning of lands across Meath. There was little chance of developing the lands for a variety of reasons.

Written minutes distributed some time after the meeting noted that Dempsey had declared a conflict of interest in relation to a later motion concerning lands owned by Glenveagh Homes, which owns extensive and zoned lands across county Meath.

In early December, Aisling Dempsey contacted the Ethics registrar of the Council to declare a conflict of interest that, she said, forced her to withdraw from the Special Planning Meeting on 26 November 2020. Her letter stated:

“Dear Ethics Registrar, I write to advise that at the Special Planning Meeting on 26 November 2020, I disclosed a potential conflict of interest regarding MH-C5-837 and withdrew from the meeting as appropriate. This potential conflict of interest is related to my occupation as administrator in a construction company. Said company, Glenveagh Homes Limited, own lands that are the subject of zoning as referred to in the above motion”.

The reference to the Glenveagh land in question, MH-C5-837, is no longer available on the published list containing details of each submission made to MCC in relation to the development plan. Of more than 2400 submissions listed, the particular file referred to by Aisling Dempsey is absent. According to MCC, the submission was withdrawn before it came to any vote at the Special Planning Meeting.

“It was withdrawn by the submitter and therefore was not considered at the Special Planning meeting”, a spokesperson for the Council told Village. MCC declined the request for details of the lands in question.

Glenveagh Homes is among the largest owners of zoned land in Meath and indeed neighbouring counties and was fortunate that it escaped the de zoning measures which affected so many other landowners. Aisling Dempsey is a personal assistant to the chief executive of Glenveagh
Homes, Stephen Garvey.

Aisling Dempsey

Dempsey took the Fianna Fáil Council seat vacated by Ronan McKenna, who is married to her sister and has worked as a sales agent for Glenveagh in County Meath for some years.

Defending its policy to de-zone 319 hectares of land across the county as the housing crisis worsens, MCC said that “considering climate change as well as the proper planning and sustainable development of the county, it was considered necessary that significant de-zoning as well as rezoning was required”.