Saturday 25 November 2017

Whistleblower planning claims set to be probed

Alan Kelly,TD,the Minister for the Environment,Community and Local Government
Alan Kelly,TD,the Minister for the Environment,Community and Local Government
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

A barrister is to be appointed to investigate allegations of planning corruption made by a former council official turned whistleblower.

Gerard Convie, a former senior planner with Donegal County Council, has compiled a dossier which contains 20 cases of alleged corruption in the county.

Among the cases highlighted by Mr Convie are a petrol station which operated for over 10 years despite never having secured planning permission.

The former civil servant has made several attempts to have his allegations investigated by the Department of the Environment.

The Irish Independent can reveal that a senior counsel will travel to Donegal to investigate the allegations, at the request of Environment Minister Alan Kelly.

Mr Kelly made the decision to appoint the barrister after examining the allegations and on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General.

The barrister will interview Mr Convie and council officials as part of the probe.

The allegations of planning corruption date back to decisions made in the late 1990s.

Among the allegations are numerous cases of houses being built in scenic locations, in contravention of regulations protecting local beauty.

A review into planning decisions made by the council was ordered by former Environment Minister John Gormley in 2010.

However, the review was cut short after the Fianna Fáil/Green Party government was removed from power.

A later report in 2012 concluded that there was no evidence to back up the whistleblower's claims. But Mr Convie challenged the findings of the report in the High Court, which ruled in his favour.

The report was withdrawn and the Department of the Environment apologised and paid compensation to the former civil servant.

Mr Kelly has reviewed the case in recent weeks and has opted to appoint the barrister.

Regret

Mr Convie spent 24 years with the council and left voluntarily in 2007. He now works as a private planning consultant.

He preciously expressed regret that the issue of alleged corruption in Donegal was in the spotlight but said the matters are of grave importance.

He said: "This is the very last place that I want to be.

"To begin with, I hate that Donegal is being put in the spotlight again.

"Having said that, the people of Donegal deserve to know the truth.

"They deserve to know what has been going on in planning in the county and who has been responsible for it."

Irish Independent

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