By David Young and Cate McCurry, PA
The Taoiseach said Damien English has paid a “big political price” after the minister of state resigned over an issue with a planning application.
Leo Varadkar described his Fine Gael colleague as an “extraordinarily decent person”, saying it was a difficult day for Mr English, his family and supporters.
The TD for Meath West apologised after he admitted failing to declare his ownership of a house in Castlemartin to Meath County Council when making a fresh planning application in 2008.
He quit as minister in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment following claims made about the planning application on The Ditch website.
I have informed the Taoiseach last night of my decision to resign as Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
Yesterday in an online article, questions were raised about my planning application from 14 years ago. I reviewed this application,
— Damien English TD (@Damien_English) January 12, 2023
Speaking in Belfast, Mr Varadkar said that Mr English spoke to him on Wednesday night, saying he could not continue as a minister, despite the omission happening 14 years ago when he was not in a ministerial position.
“He took the view that it was the right thing for him to resign. I accepted that decision last night. It is a big political price to pay,” Mr Varadkar said.
“I think he’s paid it in terms of the political aspect of this. I do want to say that he is a minister that worked very closely with me for a number of years, was my minister of state in my last department.
“He’s an extraordinarily decent person, somebody who’s very hard working and somebody is very capable, and it’s a difficult day for him, his supporters, his family, and I think we should bear that in mind today.”
Mr Varadkar rejected suggestions he should also resign as a TD.
“He resigned as a minister, that is the political price that he’s paid,” he added.
“I don’t think it’s necessary at all that he should resign as a TD. Ultimately, it would be for the people of Meath West to decide whether or not they want to re-elect him in the next election if he runs again, I hope he does.”
Mr English is one of a number of ministerial resignations within the current government in the last two and a half years.
He follows on from Robert Troy, Dara Calleary and Barry Cowen who all left their roles amid controversies.
Mr Varadkar told reporters that the resignations are a demonstration of accountability within government.
and colleagues in Government as they continue to deliver on the programme for Government.
I would like to recognise the support and sacrifice of Laura and my family at all times. pic.twitter.com/DpKVsP3w6L
— Damien English TD (@Damien_English) January 12, 2023
“I often hear people say that nobody in Ireland ever resigns. That can’t be said about this government. We have had four resignations and ministers have been held to account,” Mr Varadkar added.
“This is something that happened 14 years ago, it happened before he became minister.
“He made it clear to me that he felt it was beneath the standards that would be expected of a member of government.”
“I think the assurance we can give people is that when these issues came to prominence or when we became aware of these issues, that there was accountability, and two ministers have stepped down.
“That is, I think, evidence of accountability and action.”
He said that Mr English is a “very competent, very decent, and very capable” minister.
“Today in particular is a very difficult day for him, for his family and supporters.
“He didn’t feel that his position was tenable, that he would rather resign quickly then cause any further difficulty for colleagues or for the party. I think that was the right decision.”
In a statement, Mr English said he spoke to the Taoiseach on Wednesday night.
“Yesterday in an online article, questions were raised about my planning application from 14 years ago. I reviewed this application, made in 2008, and it is clear to me that I failed to inform Meath County Council about ownership of my house in Castlemartin,” Mr English said.
“This was wrong, not up to the standard required and I apologise for doing so.
“I would like to thank the people of Meath West for their ongoing support as their TD. I will continue to serve them and work hard on their behalf in the constituency.
“I thank the Taoiseach and parliamentary colleagues for their support during my time as Minister of State. I will continue to support the Taoiseach and colleagues in government as they continue to deliver on the programme for government.
“I would like to recognise the support and sacrifice of Laura and my family at all times.”
Tánaiste Micheal Martin said Mr English had made the right decision, despite the omission being made 14 years ago.
“I think he made his decision himself. I understand he went to the Taoiseach and indicated the situation,” Mr Martin said on Thursday.
“I think it’s very difficult personally for him, I think he’s been a good minister and has been a good parliamentarian for the last number of years.
“It’s a very difficult day for him and his family but he made the right decision in the wider sense given the lack of transparency.”
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald also said Mr English made the correct decision to resign.
“I mean, it was a very, very serious omission on his behalf,” Ms McDonald said in a visit to Belfast.
“It’s strange to reflect that this resignation almost has an echo of the last government, when Micheál Martin made his appointments and resignations that happened at that time.
“You won’t be surprised to hear me say that it is my strong view that what we need in fact, is a new government in Dublin, a new sense of energy and direction.
“What we always need is politicians that are accountable, and when we make the rules we have to observe and obey the rules also.”