Tuesday 22 May 2018

Row over Kelly's delay in publishing report on planning

Under-fire Environment Minister Alan Kelly
Under-fire Environment Minister Alan Kelly
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has come under fire for failing to publish a report on alleged breaches of planning rules in six local councils.

The independent review has been on the minister's desk for the past five months, but no date has been announced for its publication and it has not been circulated to the local authorities involved.

The Labour Party deputy leader is facing criticism from within the Coalition over the delay in releasing the report's findings.

Former junior environment minister Fergus O'Dowd, a Fine Gael TD, called on the minister to publish the document as a matter of urgency "in the interests of transparency".

The row comes amid the continuing fall-out from an RTÉ television expose which revealed three councillors had secretly agreed to help a company with planning issues, with two of them seeking payments.

The revelations have sparked intense debate over the adequacy of current anti-corruption safeguards and the Coalition is facing criticism over delays in implementing new public standards legislation which would give investigators more powers.

The review on Mr Kelly's desk was launched following complaints by heritage body An Taisce and others about alleged planning rule breaches in Carlow, Cork, Galway and Meath county councils and Cork and Dublin city councils.

It is thought to have looked at decisions made as far back as 2006. The councils involved have denied planning practices were ignored or that correct procedures were not followed.

The report was commissioned by the then planning minister, Jan O'Sullivan, in June 2013 after controversy over previous reviews of the planning complaints.

Planning consultants MacCabe Durney Barnes were paid €95,000 for the completed review earlier this year.

In response to written questions from Mr O'Dowd, Mr Kelly confirmed early last month he had received the report in July and that it was his intention to publish it "shortly" having fully considered its contents.

He issued a similar reply to another question from Mr O'Dowd in late November.

The reasons for the lengthy consideration period have not been disclosed. Mr Kelly said that since he had received it, the report had "not been forwarded onwards to any other person, body or local authority outside of my department".

A spokesman for the minister said it was hoped the report would be published by the end of the year. However, he was unable to provide a definitive publication date.

"In the interests of transparency and accountability this report needs to be published now," said Mr O'Dowd.

The TD said he had been raising the issue with the minister since last March as he was concerned about allegations in east Meath, which is part of his constituency.

The consultants who drafted the report were asked to investigate whether there had been a "poor application" of policies and if required information was disclosed publicly as part of the planning process. They were also asked to make ­recommendations on reforms.

This is the second time that many of the allegations have been investigated.

An internal review by the Department of the Environment published in 2012 found no evidence of wrongdoing, but did make recommendations on improving the system.

One section of that report, dealing with Co Donegal, was expunged followed a settlement between the department and a former local authority planner who took judicial review proceedings. Former senior planner Gerard Convie had alleged there were numerous instances of irregularities, corruption and political interference in the planning process in the county. Those allegations were rejected by the council.

Donegal was not included in the new multi-county review. Instead, following consultation with the Attorney General, a senior counsel was appointed to prepare a separate review report in relation to Donegal.

Irish Independent

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