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Former planner challenges Sipo over handling of his complaints

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Mr Justice Charles Meenan. Pic: Collins Courts

Mr Justice Charles Meenan. Pic: Collins Courts

Mr Justice Charles Meenan. Pic: Collins Courts

A former council planner is seeking to bring a High Court challenge over the refusal of a watchdog to consider complaints about alleged planning irregularities.

Gerard Convie claims the refusal by the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) to consider his complaints about nine alleged irregularities relating to Donegal County Council was wrong in law and unreasonable.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan yesterday said Mr Convie would have to put Sipo on notice of the intended proceedings and the case could come back in September.

It is the second time the former chief planner with Donegal County Council has raised concerns about planning issues in the county.

Previous claims over a decade ago were the subject of considerable controversy and led to two reviews.

The first, by the Department of Environment, looked at concerns mainly from the 1990s but found no evidence of wrongdoing. Mr Convie challenged this, alleging his complaints were not investigated.

In 2013, he received an apology and €25,000 in damages from the department and it consented to an order quashing its own findings.

Barrister Rory Mulcahy was subsequently appointed to review alleged planning irregularities in the county. His report, given to then Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy 2017, remains unpublished.

Evan O'Donnell BL, for Mr Convie, yesterday said his client was a former planning officer with the council who resigned in 2002 and became a planning consultant.

Mr Convie first made submissions to the council itself over the latest alleged irregularities but these were rejected. He then went to Sipo, but it refused to consider the nine planning matters he identified. One complaint relates to the alleged non-disclosure of an interest or conflict of interest as required by those involved in planning control administration. Another relates to an alleged failure by the council to act over an unauthorised development at Knockalla Fort in 2010.

Mr Convie claims the council acted in breach of its own code of conduct such that its failure to act within a certain time meant it was no longer possible to bring legal proceedings.

He complained about the grant of permission for a housing development in Ballyliffin because a similar proposal for the same site had previously been refused and there had allegedly been no change in circumstances.

Mr Convie complained about the alleged failure of a planning officer to register an interest in relation to the granting of permission for a house on a site which had previously been refused permission. He also complained about a report from the Donegal County Manager in 2009 that he said illustrated a breach of the code of conduct.

Three other complaints related to another unauthorised development where allegedly no action was taken.

Mr Convie claimed Sipo refused to furnish a formal decision in each of the complaints or did so at a time so remote from its decision that it was prejudicial to him and contrary to fair procedures.

Sipo said it could not comment due to the proceedings.

The council said it was not a party to the proceedings and it would be inappropriate for it to comment on them.

Irish Independent