Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 May 2006

Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).


12:00 pm

Photo of Ruairi QuinnRuairi Quinn (Dublin South East, Labour)

If the waste management plan is successful, we will reduce the flow of fuel to incinerators and, if the fuel is not burnt at a sufficient volume to a sufficient temperature, there is a risk of dioxins entering the system. This was one of the conclusions drawn from the Merck Sharp and Dohme controversy in Tipperary many years ago.

It is difficult to take at face value the proposition that this Bill will enhance local democracy and give councillors more say than they have at present when those who want to have a say and voted formally to reject an incinerator local people do not want see it going through. There is an extraordinary element of hypocrisy in this matter too because, although the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has solemnly sworn to defend the interests of his constituents in Dublin South-East and prevent the incinerator from going ahead, he has sat, as Attorney General and as a Minister, at the Cabinet table and allowed this happen. If the issue were as important at national level as he proclaimed it was at local level, he would have done the honourable thing, that is, he would have objected to it properly and resigned if unsuccessful. Otherwise he would have told his constituents in Dublin South-East that he was not doing what he had promised and they could therefore make their own decision on his candidacy in the next election. He has chosen neither of these options and consequently public cynicism has increased.

Without dealing with the High Court process and ensuring that a special division of that court would process disputes speedily, many of the objectives of this legislation will not be achieved. The Bill is tramping on the first layer of local democracy and removing the planning process at this level. At the level of local democracy, a local group concerned about a project can go to its local county council office to see the plans, talk to its own councillors and engage in some interaction regarding the possible local impact of the proposal. The first layer of local democracy is being stripped away not in respect of small domestic extensions but in respect of major infrastructural projects, which will generate far more concerns than normal domestic-type applications.

When a matter goes to An Bord Pleanála, in the manner suggested, the likelihood is there will be a court case. Without setting up a new dedicated section in the High Court and without dealing with the court's procedures, there is no guarantee this Bill will achieve the objective for which it was introduced, that is, to shorten the length of the planning process.

We know the problem with Dublin Airport, which is in crisis, has nothing to do with the planning process and everything to do with the ideological Mexican stand-off between the Progressive Democrats and Fianna Fáil over competing terminals at the airport. This selfish ideological spat has crucified travellers going through the airport and it makes no economic or common sense. The break-up of Aer Rianta, which has not produced the business plan that former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, wanted for it, has resulted inevitably in conflict between Dublin and Cork airports over the capital cost of the provisions for the latter. This will ultimately reach the courts in Luxembourg through the European Commission and it will be found that Cork Airport cannot off-load its capital cost to Dublin Airport, contrary to the lies told to the people of Cork.

When dividing Aer Rianta into three separate entities under European law such that those entities will compete against one another, it is illegal to place a handicap on one to the effect that it must provide the capital for another. If Aer Rianta were left alone and if the Cabinet had the courage to sack Noel O'Hanlon, which is what it really wanted to do, it would not have resulted in the most expensive redundancy package in the history of the State. The issue has not yet gone away and other Administrations will have to deal with it.

There are many other provisions in the Bill I would like to talk about. I very much welcome the acceptance by the Minister of the Labour Party's Private Members' Bill, which resurfaced in the legislation as section 9. It is long overdue. On Committee Stage, my colleague Deputy Gilmore might try to flesh out how this will function legally. The rogue builders are individuals, yet one must consider what would happen if an applicant were a company with two nominated directors. I would like to know how the Minister proposes to deal with circumstances in which a roguish individual who forms Fairfax Construction applies for planning permission under that name, lists the company as having one or two directors, fails to complete an estate in the manner required and applies to build another under the name of another company, using a nominated director. He could be the beneficial owner of the company. We already know, in light of the housing structure in the Dublin area, about the layers of cover that exist to conceal the identity of directors. Perhaps one extra provision is necessary in this regard. As a non-lawyer, I suggest the provisions in the companies legislation, whereby a director who is defective in complying with the law can be struck off and disallowed from being a director, may comprise a belt-and-braces approach to this legislation.

By spending a couple of hours with a good solicitor, as one might spend a couple of hours with a good tax accountant, one could drive a coach and four through these provisions. If one expects a clerk in a local authority to go to the Companies Office to trawl through the maze of companies set up to provide a fog around the true identity of the owner, one will find it very difficult to ensure that one will not grant planning permission because of the behaviour of a director. I welcome the Bill in principle but, as a legislator, I am not sure it is sufficiently robust to weed out the 5% of people who are gangsters and who give the rest of the building industry a very bad name.


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