A PLANNING application in the name of Progressive Democrats senator Fiona O'Malley and another woman is at the centre of a garda investigation.
The gardai were called in after a letter purporting to come from a priest in support of the application turned out to have been written by Ms O'Malley's partner in the project.
In a statement yesterday, Ms O'Malley said she was completely unaware of the letter and had no involvement in its preparation or inclusion with the planning application. Ms O'Malley stressed that in recent years she has had little or no involvement in the day-to-day running of the project.
Permission for the development of an arts centre in north-west Connemara was sought from Galway Co Council last April. The application was in the names of Mari Saville and Fiona O'Malley. Both women are directors of the partially completed Ellis Tate Centre for the Arts which is being established alongside the old Letterfrack Industrial School and adjacent to the local Catholic church.
The permission sought is for permanent retention and completion of three new two-storey studios, toilets, foyer, café and library, as well as an extension to an existing theatre/exhibition building. In order to satisfy planning requirements, it emerged car parking spaces would have to be made available and agreement would have to be reached with the local church authorities to avail of up to nine of their parking spaces.
A letter in support of the application was received by the planning department of Galway Co Council on April 10. A copy of the letter was obtained by Nuacht TG4 and details were broadcast over the weekend.
The address on the letter states that it came from the Parochial House, St Joseph's Church, Letterfrack, and it was signed John O'Gorman PP -- Fr John O'Gorman was the parish priest in Letterfrack at the time.
The letter referred to the planning application being made by Ms Saville and Ms O'Malley and pointed out that 30 car parking spaces were available at the church.
"I now confirm that this car park will be made available to Ms Saville and Ms O'Malley for the parking of not more than nine cars during weekdays and at times when the buildings referred to in the planning permission will be in use, on the assumption that Galway County Council will grant planning permission for this particular development. I trust this arrangement will be acceptable to the Galway County Council as part of a planning permission," said the letter.
It is understood that the letter was referred to gardai in Clifden for investigation after it was brought to the attention of Fr O'Gorman. A garda spokesman confirmed an investigation was being carried out.
Ms Saville has now admitted she wrote the letter and had simply signed it on behalf of Fr O'Gorman and had indicated this by using the notation, pp or per pro. She insists that she did so only after getting Fr O'Gorman's complete agreement to allow the nine spaces to be used.
Ms Saville claimed there was "mischief-making and troublemaking locally" about the matter.
Fr O'Gorman declined to comment. He has since left Letterfrack and is now attached to a parish in east Galway.
Ms Saville confirmed that a detective had interviewed her about the matter, but had "accepted" her version of events. She said she had gone to Fr O'Gorman and apologised.
In a statement yesterday, Ms O'Malley confirmed that about 10 years ago she became one of the directors of a company trying to develop an arts centre in Letterfrack.
"For some time I was actively involved in trying to move the project forward, but for the last number of years, I have had little or no involvement in the day-to-day running of the scheme," she said.
"In April of this year, a fresh planning application related to the project was lodged to Galway Co Council without my involvement. I am also advised that as part of the application, a letter was submitted referring to the attitude of Fr John O'Gorman to the project. I was completely unaware of this."
The Ellis Tate Centre for the Arts in Connemara is partially funded by the American Ireland Fund. The fund is an international charitable organisation which has contributed over $300m for worthy causes here.