Friday 22 September 2017

Pressure on Taoiseach to launch probe into rezoning

Ralph Riegel and Eimear Ni Bhraonain

THE Taoiseach is coming under increasing pressure from within his own party to launch a probe into the Waterford planning controversy.

The Fine Gael mayor of Waterford, Liam Brazil, last night backed calls for an inquiry -- following the conviction of ex-Fine Gael councillor Fred Forsey for accepting bribes from a developer to get lands rezoned.

Enda Kenny has refused to criticise the decision by a number of other FG councillors to rezone the controversial land against planning regulations.

Mr Kenny is understood to have been briefed about the Forsey case four years ago by local Fine Gael TD John Deasy.

Last night, Mr Brazil said he would have "no problem" with Fianna Fail's environment spokesman Niall Collins's call for an independent inquiry into the planning system.

"I would say 'yes, go ahead and do it'. We have nothing to hide and people are angry about this," Mr Brazil said.

The Waterford mayor, who voted against the rezoning of the controversial lands, said he had used his "common sense".

He said he was "certainly aware" when he rejected the rezoning bid that it was the subject of a garda investigation and a bad planning decision.

However, he refused to criticise his fellow councillors who voted 13-8 in favour of rezoning the lands at the centre of the corruption trial.

Mr Kenny insisted yesterday that the Government was taking the matter very seriously -- but was awaiting a Department of Environment review.

"Clearly, if anybody in the country has any information about corrupt or fraudulent activities, they have a duty to see that it is brought to the attention of the gardai," he added.

The department report is focused on any planning irregularities at county and city council level.

Environment Minister Phil Hogan ruled out a planning tribunal or national inquiry -- despite the recent revelations.

Former Dungarvan Town Council member Fred Forsey will be sentenced next month for corruptly accepting payments from a developer over a proposed land rezoning.

Warnings

In that case, 13 FG and FF councillors voted to rezone the land in question -- despite the fact a garda investigation was ongoing and that the Waterford County Manager and the then Environment Minister John Gormley had issued warnings over the matter.

Mr Gormley later used ministerial powers to block the rezoning. Several of the councillors have since explained that they voted on the basis that the project would generate jobs.

Cllr Mary Greene (FG) defended her decision yesterday to vote in favour of the rezoning, stating that she did so on the "track record" of the companies involved and the need for jobs in the area.

"John Gormley seemed to be very much pushing a Dublin agenda to us rural councillors," she said in response to why she went against his advice not to rezone the lands.

Yesterday, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney acknowledged that Ireland must never again let such planning controversies occur.

"We cannot ever allow Ireland to go back to the kind of planning corruption that we have seen in the past exposed through tribunals," he said.

Irish Independent

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