You may recall how, in June 2010, following a series of complaints, the then former Environment Minister John Gormley announced that there would be inquiries – and appointed inspectors to carry out those inquiries – into alleged planning irregularities.
The inquiries were to take place at seven local authorities – Dublin and Cork City Councils and Carlow, Galway, Cork, Meath and Donegal County Councils.
However, just months after the formation of the current Government, following in 2011 Environment Minister Phil Hogan terminated the inquiries.
Instead, an internal review by the Department of the Environment was published in June 2012.
This internal review – published by Labour’s Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan – concluded that there was no evidence of wrongdoing.
It should be noted Carlow – which is Mr Hogan’s constituency – was named as the ‘the most serious of the cases’ in the review and that if it weren’t for 120 recommendations being implemented following a 2010 review by John Quinlivan, former Carlow Town Clerk and Louth County Manager, an investigation would be required into Carlow County Council, even though it stated not all of the recommendations had been delivered upon, at the time of the review’s investigation.
But what about Donegal?
Gerard Convie, who worked in Donegal County Council as a senior planner for 24 years before he resigned in 2007, provided the review with 20 cases of what he claimed was evidence of irregularities at Donegal County Council.
And, after the review concluded there was no proof of wrongdoing, he went to the High Court alleging that the review was inadequate, ‘deeply disturbing’ and failed to address his complaints.
His action resulted in the High Court quashing the review’s section on Donegal County Council’s planning department; the Department of the Environment apologising to Mr Convie and him being awarded €25,000.
This High Court decision occurred on June 14, 2013.
On foot of it, Ms O’Sullivan announced:
“I am today announcing my intention to appoint independent planning consultants under Section 255 of the Planning and Development Acts to conduct an independent assessment of planning procedures and practices in the six other local authorities that were the subject of the Planning Review Report.”
The current issue of Village magazine – which gives a thorough breakdown of Mr Convie’s complaints – is reporting that the material concerning Donegal and put forward by Mr Convie was sent to the Attorney General Máire Whelan for direction and it’s understood she has now sent this on to the Environment Minister Phil Hogan with the Environment Department expected to release its review before the summer.
Meanwhile, while in Opposition, Mr Hogan did an interview with Tony Lowes, for Village magazine, in which he was asked if he supported Mr Gormley’s planned inquiries into the seven authorities. From that interview:
Tony Lowes: “Do you support the investigations that Mr Gormley set up for certain councils, including Dublin City and Carlow?”
Phil Hogan: “Spuriously mostly.”
Lowes: “If you became Minister would you allow this process to go forward?”
Hogan: “Absolutely – I think it’s very important that we have confidence in the system of public administration at official level and political level – we learned enough in the Mahon Tribunal to know that this is important – but we’re not going to get into the political business of trying to find scapegoats for political purposes which is what ex-Minister Gormley is intending to do. I’m aware of issues that have come before Carlow County Council but on the material that has come out of the investigations to date I don’t see anything.”
Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland