Irish News

Sunday 13 July 2014

Councillors defend vote to rezone land at centre of corruption trial

Eimear Ni Bhraonain and Fionnan Sheahan

Published 25/05/2012|05:00

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Fred Forsey and his girlfriend Karen Morrissey arriving at Waterford Circuit Court yesterday

COUNCILLORS who voted to rezone the controversial land at the centre of the Waterford corruption trial yesterday broke their silence to defend their decision.

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Environment Minister Phil Hogan came under mounting pressure to launch an inquiry into planning in the county in the wake of the prosecution of former Fine Gael councillor Fred Forsey.

The development came as Forsey had his sentencing hearing postponed for a month following his corruption conviction last week.

Despite an ongoing garda corruption investigation and warnings from the then Environment Minister and the Waterford county manager, 13 Fine Gael and FF councillors voted to rezone the land at the centre of the affair in May 2008.

Jobs

When contacted by the Irish Independent, several of the councillors stood by their rezoning decision and said they did it to help create jobs in the Dungarvan area.

However, Fine Gael has no intention of looking into why its councillors voted for the rezoning in such contentious circumstances. Fine Gael TD John Deasy made the original complaint to gardai about the corruption allegation, after being contacted by Forsey's estranged wife, Jenny.

Backing away from looking into the matter, Fine Gael said there was "no investigation at this time".

Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said regardless of which party's councillors were involved, there should be an independent inquiry into the planning system.

"It is absolutely fundamental that the Taoiseach and the minister steps up to the mark here," he said. But Mr Hogan also ruled out a planning inquiry in Waterford.

"The specific issue in relation to one member has been dealt with by the courts.

"There is no wider prima facie evidence that would merit the establishment of an independent inquiry," a spokesman said.

When contacted by the Irish Independent, the Waterford county councillors stood over their decision to rezone the lands.

The rezoning was passed by a 13-8 majority at a meeting in May 2008.

Aside from the garda investigation, the then Environment Minister John Gormley and County Manager Ray O'Dwyer warned against the rezoning on planning grounds.

But most of the councillors insisted they voted to rezone the lands for "jobs and jobs only".

Conscience

Mr Deasy told the Forsey trial it was his belief the aim of the rezoning was simply to inflate the price of land.

Fine Gael councillor Brendan Coffey, who is a brother of party TD Paudie Coffey, said his "conscience is clear" when asked why he supported the rezoning. "I went against planning guidelines and that wouldn't adhere to best practice but I did it for the best of intentions," he said.

Mr Coffey said jobs were at the forefront of his mind.

He also claimed not to know the matter was the subject of a garda investigation when he voted.

Fine Gael's Declan Doocey, Nora Flynn, Pat Nugent and Lola O'Sullivan, along with Fianna Fail's Tom Cronin and James Tobin, all cited jobs as their reason for voting for the rezoning.

Former Fine Gael but now Independent councillor Tom Higgins repeatedly refused to give a reason for voting in favour of the development.

Irish Independent

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