By Conor Ryan (@conor_w_ryan) and Ken Foxe (@kenfoxe)

More than forty councillors across the country have accepted there were omissions in their statutory ethics declarations after an investigation revealed properties or commercial interests which had not been declared.

The research also revealed that in excess of 40% of the country’s 949 councilors declared no property interests whatsoever despite a legal obligation to list all interests in land – including their family home.

A project by the RTÉ Investigations Unit examined property, corporate and occupational interests and focused on areas where there were discrepancies between official declarations and the public records.

In some cases, politicians did not disclose companies that were in receivership, others that were listed as tax defaulters, and even development sites that ended up in Nama.

When it comes to declaring a business the size, profitability or trading status of a company does not matter. Even if the role is unpaid it still has to be declared until the company is legally dissolved.

In other instances, councillors said they had no property interests despite having significant portfolios including land with zoning for residential development.

In Galway, Fine Gael councillor Tom McHugh failed to register a 30-acre farm, an unfinished house in Achill, a residential site and other residentially zoned and commercial properties.

Four judgment mortgages had been registered against two of the properties in Kiltivna, Co Galway. Mr McHugh was also the subject of a €670,000 debt judgment from the local credit union.

This month he wrote to Galway County Council to detail his interests and said “I apologise for this oversight and am now setting the record straight.” Cllr McHugh amended his declaration.

In late 2014, his building firm received €150,000 from Galway County Council for building services.  Mr McHugh said this did not need to be declared as it was a grant to finish a housing estate and not a local authority contract.

In Mayo, a Fianna Fáil councillor Paul McNamara did not declare two different development properties in his home county.

The properties are the subject of charges by Nama resulting from loans taken out from the EBS. One of those properties, on Achill Island, was the subject of a planning application in late 2014.  Councillor McNamara said he has now submitted an amended declaration to cover one of the properties in Nama and that another had since been sold. He said it was an oversight and he did not believe he had any conflict of interest.

The Fianna Fáil councillor did not list a directorship and shareholding in a property company, John and Paul McNamara Property Company Ltd. That company made a tax settlement of almost €400,000 with the Revenue Commissioners.

He said he should have declared he was a director of two separate companies, but both had ceased trading since 2006.

In Cavan, Fine Gael’s Val Smith did not list an interest in a family home as well as another house, farm and buildings. In a statement to RTÉ, he said they should have been declared and that this had been “an error on [his] part”.

Cllr Kenneth O’Flynn failed to declare his interests in four separate properties in the south of the country.

Research by the RTÉ Investigations Unit revealed he owned an apartment in Limerick, a retail unit in Mahon, Cork city, a business premises in Kilnap in Cork, and an industrial premises, also in Kilnap.

Mr O’Flynn said the properties were all part of a family partnership and he had been “unaware” they should have formed part of his annual declaration.  He has amended his declaration.

Seán Martin, a Fianna Fáil councilor in Cork said the omission of a 20% share in a holiday home left to him by his late parents had been “a genuine and unintentional omission”.

A Fianna Fáil councillor in Co Kildare Daragh Fitzpatrick did not declare that he was a director of six separate companies in his annual statement of interests. 

Mr Fitzpatrick is listed in company records as a director of Alinberg Hotels Limited, a hotel business, and Zirkalia Limited, a development and real estate company.

The Fianna Fáil councillor is also listed as director of four companies called Lichoceves 1, 2, 3 & 4.

They are all listed as businesses for “development and selling of real estate”. He said that this had been a “complete oversight” on his part and he has filed an amended declaration.

Another Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin Sheahan – this time in Co Limerick – did not declare an interest in two separate properties as well as a directorship of a company.

Mr Sheahan had an interest in two properties in Askeaton: a site and a property at a retirement village.

He was also a director of a company called Glenmanor Holdings Limited, which is involved in “business and management consultancy activities”.

In a letter to RTÉ, Mr Sheahan said he had actually not filled in his declaration for 2015 and that the last form submitted was in February 2014.

He said the site in Askeaton should have been declared and that the company was dormant at the moment. Cllr Sheahan said the property at the nursing home had been repossessed by Danske Bank and he had no responsibility for it any longer. He has now filed an amended declaration of interests.

Councillors cannot take part in any meeting where something that might affect them or those close to them is up for decision.

In Cork, Independent Councillor Alan Coleman is the co-owner of residentially zoned land in Garrylucas on the old head of Kinsale. In July 2011, he attended a meeting of Cork County Council and voted on a local area plan that included measures which had an impact on his property.

In his declaration of interests, the councillor also failed to list a second house he owns outside Charleville.

In a statement, Mr Coleman said he had not declared the house in Charleville as it had fallen substantially in value and “this is not the type of ‘land’ that was intended to be covered by the declaration”.

In relation to the Garrylucas site, he said it remained undeveloped farmland and “even a cursory comparison of the 2006 Development Plan and the current Development Plan makes it clear that there have been no changes … that could feasibly benefit the property”.

David Fitzgerald, a Fine Gael councillor in Kilkenny did not declare two properties on the same street in Kilkenny City.

He said it was an “oversight”, that he could not explain it as he had previously listed them and that he had now submitted an amended declaration.

Two councillors in adjoining counties both failed to include their interests in the same retirement complex near Limerick City.

Fine Gael’s Joe Byrne (Galway) and Fine Gael’s Johnny Flynn (Clare) both had shares in units in the development at Castletroy. Mr Byrne held an interest in three units while Mr Flynn had an interest in six of them.

Mr. Byrne said he had invested in what turned out to be an unsuccessful tax partnership scheme in Co Limerick along with a number of other people.

He said it was his understanding that the properties were now in the hands of the receiver and “may indeed have been sold”.

Cllr Byrne said his investment “is lost and not recoverable” and that he did not believe it was something that he had to declare as the properties had been in the hands of the receiver since 2011.

Cllr Flynn said he had invested in the retirement complex to provide for his children’s future education but that the investment had collapsed within two years.

“I honestly believed that my investment/loss in this tax-based scheme held no connection or relationship to my elected position,” he said. He has filed an amendment to his declaration of interests.

In Co Offaly, independent councillor John Carroll did not declare his interest in a property in Birr and also the directorship of a company involved in business coaching, both of which were listed under his Irish name of Seán Ó Cearbhaill.

Mr Carroll said their omission from his declaration had been an oversight and that he thought the property was registered in his wife’s name.

A Fianna Fáil councillor in Roscommon did not declare an interest in a portion of land in the county.

Paddy Kilduff also never included a directorship of a computer company called Netsgo Limited and a shareholding in Paddy Kilduff & Sons Builders Limited.

He said the computer company, which was set up by his son, had never traded and that he had retired from the building firm in 2010 and did not earn an income from either.

In Kerry, Fianna Fáil’s Niall Kelleher did not declare his directorship of a company based in the UK.

Cllr Kelleher said he had only just been appointed as a director of Dosco Ireland Limited, a company based in Harley Street in London.

He said while he knew this appointment was due to happen, he had not realised it had gone through when he made his declaration in February of this year.

Anne Marie Dermody, a Fine Gael councillor and solicitor, failed to register a house in Clondalkin, Co Dublin and another in Portumna, Co Galway.

Neither did she disclose her directorship of a firm called Diarmuid Gavin Designs Limited, saying it had not traded in several years.

She said both of the properties should have been declared, but that they had been properly registered with the Private Residential Tenancies Board and were let out to tenants.

Ms Dermody said she would correct the record and had taken steps to formally resign from the company.

Eamon Scanlon, a former Fianna Fáil TD in the Sligo North Leitrim constituency, did not include a property in Dublin in the declaration he made to Sligo County Council.

Mr Scanlon said that the apartment should have been included, and that he had registered it while he was sitting in the Dáil. He said he had rectified the omission.

Waterford Councillor James Tobin, also of Fianna Fáil, did not include three separate properties in the county on his declaration to the local authority.

Undeclared were 18 hectares of land in one townland, 7.5 hectares in another, and a commercial property in Tallow.

He said he was joint owner of all three with his wife and that they were family properties, on which no profit was made.

The two parcels of lands were farmed at a loss and the shop was run by his wife, which was now lying vacant. He said he would amend his declaration after what he described as an “honest mistake”.

Councillor Michael Hegarty of Fine Gael failed to register his interest in a 2.3 hectare property in Co Cork, which is the site of kennels.

Records from the Land Registry reveal that there is an outstanding charge against his interests in the property by the Revenue’s Collector General.

Mr Hegarty said he had been the owner of the property for around thirty years and that its absence from his declaration had been “an oversight” and that he will amend the record.

A Sinn Féin councillor in Co Meath Caroline Lynch was discovered not to have registered her directorship of a paving firm.

In response, she said the company had never traded and was in the process of being closed down. Ms Lynch said she would correct her declaration.

Fine Gael politician Darren Scully – a former Mayor of Naas – did not disclose that he was director of Big Apple Events Limited, a company whose principal activity is registered as “business and management consultancy activities”.

Mr Scully said the company was no longer trading – had “never got started or traded” – but he said he still should have listed it. He said it was an “oversight on [his] behalf” and that he had instructed his accountant to strike it off the register.

You can read further details on the councillors by clicking here, and how they responded when contacted by RTÉ.