29 Sept 2022

Planning report into An Bord Pleanala allegations referred to DPP and the Garda

Planning report into An Bord Pleanala allegations referred to DPP and the Garda

Mr O’Brien said he referred the report by barrister Remy Farrell on the advice of the Attorney General

Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has referred a planning report into “certain decisions” at An Bord Pleanala to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Garda and the Standards in Public Office (SIPO).

Mr O’Brien said he referred the report by barrister Remy Farrell on the advice of the Attorney General.

The report was entitled the “report into the management of conflicts of interest and relevant disclosures by the Deputy Chairperson of An Bord Pleanala in relation to certain decisions of that Board and related matters”.

It comes following the resignation of Paul Hyde as An Bord Pleanala’s deputy chair, the second most senior official in the planning appeals body.

Mr Hyde had been the subject of several probes into allegations of conflicts of interest in decisions he was involved in.

He had denied improper conduct but had stood aside from his role “without prejudice” in May pending the outcome of the investigation commissioned by the Housing Minister.

In a statement on Monday evening, the Housing Department said it would be “inappropriate for the minister to comment further on this specific matter”.

“It is now a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether a criminal prosecution should be undertaken arising from the findings of the report,” it added.

The minister has also sought the views of the DPP Catherine Pierse in relation to the publication of the report “having regard to the possibility of a prosecution”.

Addressing this point, Mr O’Brien said: “I believe it is important that the report be published as soon as possible given the vital public interest in this matter, I have asked the DPP for her views on whether there are any parts of the report which should not be published at this time while the possibility of a criminal prosecution is under consideration.”

“I will await her views before publishing the report,” he concluded.

The department also said Mr O’Brien is awaiting the outcome of a separate internal report from a senior management team within An Bord Pleanala, which was requested by An Bord Pleanala chairman Dave Walsh.

“It is expected that this internal report will examine further allegations of wrongdoing,” his department said.

“Minister O’Brien will decide on any further course of action, including possible legislative amendments, following consideration of this report.”

The minister also announced a series of reforms of the planning body.

Mr O’Brien said the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) will carry out an independent organisational review of An Bord Pleanala. It will involve independent planning experts from other jurisdictions and barrister Conleth Bradley.

Staff will be able to have an opportunity to “substantially engage with this internal review”.

His department also said the current appointment process will be “overhauled”.

The Minister will bring a plan to Cabinet in the coming weeks which will outline a new appointments process for members of An Bord Pleanala underpinned by new legislation.

He also plans to strengthen the planning bodies workforce.

Discussing the reforms, Mr O’Brien said: “An Bord Pleanala stands at the apex of our planning system and plays a crucial role as the final arbiter of many planning applications.

“In this light, I treat any allegations of inappropriate actions or behaviour by its members with the utmost seriousness. The public must have trust in the impartiality and integrity of our planning system if it is to function effectively in facilitating sustainable development.”

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