Why Did Phil Hogan Stop Six Separate Planning Inquiries?

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Frank McDonald (above), Irish Times Environment Correspondent, and Fine Gael junior Minister Alan Kelly on last night’s Frontline on RTE 1.

Pat Kenny: “Frank, you have written about [Environment Minister] Phil Hogan and what he did with five separate inquiries that were actually under way, into planning, which were then suspended.”

Frank McDonald: “Well, I mean, I think that that was a very serious matter. John Gormley, the former minister for the environment, had received detailed complaints and I know in the case of Carlow County Council they were very detailed indeed, of planning irregularities. And I’m not talking, we’re not talking about corruption here, we’re just talking about bizarre decision making and you know really shocking messing about.”

Kenny: “A lot of that can be simple stupidity, building on flooding plains and stuff like that.”

McDonald: “Yeah well, but not just stupidity, wilful, em, wrong..I mean making the wrong kind of decisions, you know, against planning advice and all of the rest of it. And that involved six local authorities, including Dublin City and Cork City Councils. And Carlow and Galway County Councils and a couple of others. And, you know, what happened was that inspectors were actually appointed and ready to start the inquiries by the time the new Government took over and within weeks if not, well, certainly within months of Phil Hogan taking over as Minister for the Environment, those inquiries were terminated and the inspectors were stood down. And even in advance of the general election, Phil Hogan had actually said that the allegations were spurious mostly. But how did he know that they were spurious when they weren’t even being investigated? And the termination of those investigations, it seems to me, runs exactly counter to one of the principle recommendations of the Mahon Tribunal which was, and is, that a planning regulator, and independent planning regulator, should be set up. Who would have powers to investigate that sort of stuff at every local authority.”

Kenny: “Frank, you would also know that with local councillors at least there is, in theory, some accountability. They can be dumped at the next opportunity at the ballot box. In the case of non-elected officials..I mean we know that George Redmond was the first person to be sanctioned, through jail. So it’s not to say that people who are professionally appointed rather than elected are going to be necessarily any better than elected officials.”

McDonald: “Well I think it’s fair to point out..that both the National Planning Institute and the Royal Town Planning Institute, southern Ireland branch, have both made this point. That no professional planner has been indicted by the tribunal, no professional planner has been found to be guilty in this respect at all. What has happened however is that various people in the administrative tier of local authorities, particularly in Dublin County Council and that applies to, as you said, George Redmond, the former city and county manager, who was in charge of county Dublin and who was on the take. I mean there’s absolutely no doubt about that. And I knew about that at the time but we couldn’t prove it. I mean how can you prove that money is changing hands unless you see it changing hands. You can smell it in the air but you don’t necessarily see it.”

Kenny: “But a belief that something is so is not enough for a court of law.”

McDonald: “No it’s not. And we have to go through..in journalism, we have to produce the equivalent of the kind of proof that would stand up in the High Court.”

[later Pat Kenny asks Fine Gael's junior minister Alan Kelly]

Pat Kenny: “What would you like to happen on foot of this?”

Alan Kelly: “Well Pat, we can never ever let this happen again. The simple fact is Fianna Fail, and others, polluted this country with corruption for over 20 years. There is people at home tonight, talking about this programme, watching this programme, who are sitting in houses, that should never have been built. They shouldn’t be where they are tonight. They’re there and they don’t have the services they require, they don’t have the children facilities, they don’t have the libraries, they don’t have the swimming pools, in west county Dublin in particular. And they’re looking at this tonight. We need to act on this. And it needs to be acted upon in a very, very, very strong way.”

Kenny: “Will you be asking Minister Hogan, for example, to reinstate those inquiries into those five councils (sic) that have been stopped by him.”

Kelly: “Absolutely, in fact, the Government is at a very advanced stage in relation to the internal inquiries in those six areas that was previously mentioned and following on from that, direct action is going to be taken in relation to those councils.”

Kenny: “So why did Minister Hogan stop them?”

Kelly: “The reason that it was changed was simply because [former Enviornment] Minister [John] Gormley announced them and then for a year did nothing. So that was the reason that it had to be looked at by the new Government, because nothing happened in a year. So it has been looked at and now it’s going to be advanced and it has to be…”

[Later Pat Kenny invites Frank McDonald to speak again]

McDonald: “There is a huge difference between an internal review being carried out by the Department of the Environment of planning irregularities in the six local authorities involved and the idea of  appointing inspectors which is what was originally planned. And I think that Alan Kelly cannot get away with saying that an internal review is sufficient.”

Watch here

Last Thursday, after the Mahon Tribunal’s final report was released, Environment Minister Phil Hogan, who represents the Carlow-Kilkenny constituency,  spoke with RTE’s Bryan Dobson

Bryan Dobson: “One of the recommendations arises from what the tribunal describes as it’s concern that  recent changes in the planning system have resulted in over centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister for the Environment which is not, they say, subject to sufficient checks and balances and they’re recommending that the Minister for the Environment, that’s you at the moment, your ability to give directions to regional authorities and local planning authorities should be entrusted to a Planning Regulator. Is that a recommendation we’re likely to see carried through?”

Phil Hogan: “Yeah I pointed this out when Minister Gormley, whom I know that his heart was in the right place in relation to these matters, was centralising too much authority in the Minister of the Environment of the day. And I indicated at the time that that’s not healthy for democracy and I intend to look at that particular matter. But the theme of what’s been outlined in the recommendations of the report about greater oversight and an independent basis of planning decisions to ensure that they’re in compliance with local, regional and spatial strategies is something that I’m very interested in and will be looking at how we can implement that in a more practical way…”

Calls For Minister To Reopen Inquiries (Frank McDonald, Irish Times)

24 thoughts on “Why Did Phil Hogan Stop Six Separate Planning Inquiries?

  1. Andy Moore

    Any particular reason why you did not mention Joe Higgins brief foray into potential subjects for future tribunals ??

    1. bisted

      …Joe’s comments were intriguing …. I’d love to hear more. Maybe #vinb would let Joe elucidate.

  2. Niall

    I wonder which party had a majority on those councils during the time which the allegations relate to?
    I would be surprised if Phil Hogan stopped inquiries into FF led councils.

  3. Koya

    Labour do have a better track record with local planning than FF/FG (that’s starting at an extremely low point), but pretending that these internal inquiries will be any replacement for the investigations the Greens set up is simply being dishonest. As is saying “nothing happened in a year”!

  4. Ryan Meade

    Kelly: “The reason that it was changed was simply because [former Enviornment] Minister [John] Gormley announced them and then for a year did nothing. So that was the reason that it had to be looked at by the new Government, because nothing happened in a year. So it has been looked at and now it’s going to be advanced and it has to be…”

    This is impressively close to the opposite of the truth. When the new Government took office they had in front of them:

    a) an extensive dossier prepared by planning officials in the Department following an internal review of the complaints;
    b) a series of reports from the Managers in each of the local authorities submitted in response to a formal request from the Minister using his statutory powers under the Planning and Development Acts;
    c) terms of reference for a panel of planning consultants to carry out independent reviews in the six local authorities;
    d) a completed tender process to select this panel of consultants;
    e) letters of appointment ready to be issued to the members of the panel.

    Instead of issuing the letters (which had been approved by Minister Gormley but held back by the Department following his resignation), Phil Hogan decided to wind the process right back to the “internal review”, even though such a review had already been completed as far back as 2009.

    So we have now been waiting nine months for Phil Hogan to produce the results of something that was already done three years ago.

      1. Kolmo

        the hopeless junkie on the street, the illiterate adults, anti-social family units, shameful amounts of litter on our roads, prisons full of mentally damaged people, third world mental health facilities etc etc.. are a direct result of decisions based on corruption by the polictally powerful in Ireland. Republic of Geckos.

  5. Eoin

    I think Ryan Meade has hit the nail on the head here. Another leading political party covering things up. No justice for the Irish Citizen.

  6. sinead

    Kenny “A lot of that can be simple stupidity, building on flooding plains and stuff like that.”

    This is the most worrying statement. On such a fundamental basic principle where regulations, eu and Irish demand qualified personnel are appointed even for the most menial jobs. To assume that architects, planners, Local Authority Engineers, plus local TD’s would not understand the significance of flood plane. ‘be simple stupidity’ I cannot understand these words at all . There are basic things children learn. Students Learn. Very Very basic understandings and knowledge that is required for every task or effort. From there you apply more sophisticated knowledge. I do not understand the theory that these people were mentally arrested and did not start with basic just went on to end bit. By this standard all and everything ever touched or had hand in building or developing would most definitely be right now with no exaggeration a massive public liability and safety issue. This dismissal is to say the least a baffling take up and turning of actuality that defies logic or common sense.

    And Phil Hogan is investigating himself, his own local authority, his owns standards, his own record.

    We think the economy is the crises.. We have a crises alright but it was never economic one

    1. Brian

      Planning is a political process, this shouldn’t be a bad thing but it is. I am sure there was technical and professional advice from architects, flood risk assessors and Council planners which was completely overlooked when the decision came to the planning committee. It’s the elected Councillors who have most to answer for here zoning and granting permission not based on sound professional planning and design advice but to do a favour (either for free or for a sum) for their mates.
      http://www.offalyexpress.ie/news/flood-plain-development-on-hold-1-2015416

      The only solution is the implementation of an ombudsman which would review rezoning, decisions taken contrary to the County Plan and decisions taken over a certain threshold.

  7. Pedanto, The Hilarity Man

    That made me very uneasy too. It beggars belief that people are still positing stupidity as a reason for decisions in the very arena where corruption was shown to be rife.

    The Irish Times is plummeting forther downhill too. The editorial yesterday insisted that “the vast majority” of our politicians are honest. Someone needs to bring them a dictionary and hold it open at the word “endemic”.

  8. Frank

    What I find disturbing is that the really bad planning decisions that led to the disasters now in the care of NAMA were not made by Fianna Fail or by Fianna Fail led councils – they were made subsequent to the FG/Lab take over of councils after the last local election by and large. Then when a process was put in place as described by Frank and Ryan above to interrogate that it gets stopped by Phil Hogan and no one (until now) cried ‘foul’. We have learned nothing and will learn nothing until we stop looking for easy answers and look beyond Fianna Fail to the political system itself and to the accountability of paid officials – look at what has been happening in relation to the Dublin incinerator.

  9. jkforde

    Right, anyone on here or a relation of yours ever go to a councillor or a TD to get something done, when they knew that it was probably against long-term societal good. A Section4 vote in the council perhaps? Fix the road nixer? Get the wall built? OMG, get some juicy floodplain lands rezoned even!

    Let’s face it, we’re a state of sliveens and we vote in sliveens because everyone loves the facts that clientilism will come in handy some day, isn’t dat rioght be boyo!?

    Anyone else sick of this insidious status quo, which started for me in primary school in the 1970s when boys and girls of 7 and 8 were going to vote (whatever we thought that meant) for one die-hard party because Mommy and Daddy vote for them and they vote for them because ‘that’s the party the family vote for’.

    We seriously needs new non-civil war parties and political vision or we will not be able to celebrate 2016 with a straight face never mind a straight back!

    1. Justin

      I for one am f*cking sick of this “but everyone’s in on it” narrative.

      No, I’ve never pulled strings or voted for sleveens. I hope I’m not the only one.

  10. OscarTheFuzz

    I wee true story to illustrate the stupididty of planning in this country.
    We have a farm in Waterford in a tiny village. Consultants were brought in (at a cost of 50 grand) to zone the village because they were supposed to be putting in mains sewage. The zoned all the farmland we owned (no consultation or anything) and produced a map with the path for the pipe….. through a bog, through 7m high solid rock just buried under the ground and through a house that had been built about 7 years before (they were using a plan from previous to that). I dropped in to Dungarvan planning office to warn them about the rock cos it’s not the most obvious unless you actually walk into the field or ask the owners (that would be MAD for a consultant wouldn’t it), while I was there I asked did the consultants actually come to the village or just work off the ordinance survey maps. Yer man said ‘of course they came to the village’, I asked how they didn’t notice that they were putting a pipe through someone’s house … didn’t seem to have an answer. 50 grand I tell ya … as far as I know the project has been shelved now…

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