Sunday 24 September 2017

Everyone knew the rezoning was wrong, trial hears

Eimear Ni Bhraonain

A FINE GAEL councillor felt like she was being "beaten with a stick" by other public representatives for voting against rezoning agricultural land for a development at the centre of a corruption trial.

Ann Marie Power was giving evidence on the third day at Waterford Circuit Court where her ex-party colleague Fred Forsey Jnr is on trial.

Ms Power told the jury that even the "dogs on the street" knew it was wrong to rezone the lands earmarked by a developer for an industrial estate.

She said the Waterford county manager and planning officials had recommended against rezoning from agricultural to industrial/residential use.

However, councillors ignored the advice -- and a letter they received from the then environment minister John Gormley cautioning against altering the zoning in March 2007.

Ms Power said she opposed the plans as they didn't "sit right" with her.

She described how Mr Forsey had phoned her in 2006 to seek a meeting to discuss a matter "pertaining to jobs".

She said she agreed to meet him and within a "couple of minutes" he turned up at her mother's front door and laid out plans on the kitchen table. Mr Forsey's defence rejected this, stating that he had no plans with him.

However, Ms Power insisted she was "100pc correct".

Intimidation

"My mother was there to see the plans as well," she said.

She described being "upset" one day because she felt "a lot of intimidation" at a meeting of local politicians. She said she felt she was "being silenced" and anyone who expressed concerns about the development were told they were "anti-jobs".

She said Mr Gormley had written a letter "cautioning" county councillors about rezoning the land.

"Our role as councillors has huge power. . . the zoning of land. . . you can make a person a millionaire overnight."

Ms Power said she had reservations about the rezoning as it would cost the council millions to bring services to a place where infrastructure was not already in place.

"There was a cloud over the whole thing," she added.

She said 21 councillors voted on the rezoning at a meeting in May 2008 -- by which time there was a garda investigation into Mr Forsey. She said 13 voted for rezoning the site for industrial use, while eight voted against.

"We should never, ever have voted on this rezoning. The dogs on the street knew there were problems with it and we went into this meeting knowing there was something wrong."

Fine Gael was split locally over the issue, she said, with only three from the party voting in favour because they "knew it was wrong".

Mr Gormley reversed the council's decision by ministerial order in August 2008.

Irish Independent

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