Wednesday, 3 February 2010
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)
Michael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
The politicians involved contaminated the process. I will come back to this matter because a price is continuing to be paid in terms of community conflict and distress. Agencies of the State got involved on the side of the developer, rather than on the side of the community. Given that alternative models were available in other countries, it was scandalous that we proceeded as we did. It reveals the mindset of certain people. I am reminded of the woman who was sent to jail in New York, who said that taxes are for small people. In this case, it seems that planning is not for big people. There is a suggestion that if a project is of sufficient importance, one can proceed with it regardless of whether others like it. That is what happened in this instance. The full scandalous facts of these secret meetings should be put into the public realm.
Why has Ireland not fully ratified and implemented the Aarhus Convention, which allows public participation in planning discourse? When the Minister replies at the end of this debate, perhaps he can explain how much progress has been made with the implementation of the convention. One could give a rather old and gentrified response, to the effect that we are doing so much under our existing legislative arrangements that we almost do not need the convention. It is as if we think we are a cut above the other European countries that have decided to implement the EU directive. In his response, can the Minister say how many cases have been initiated by the Commission at the European Court of Justice? To what matters do those cases relate? Will the matters in question be resolved?
I would like to mention another notion, which involves a kind of sideways political approach to planning. When I was the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, I was responsible for the implementation of certain directives at different times. When I dealt with candidate sites for designation as special areas of conservation or national heritage areas, it became useful for Fianna Fáil, and sometimes Fine Gael, to say that Michael D. was just doing his thing and all the rest of it. In fact, when Deputy Treacy had preceded me as Minister of State in this area, he had concluded the negotiations in Brussels. Different things might have been done at those discussions. It was my duty as the member of the Cabinet with responsibility for heritage to legislate for the directives in question, and I did so.
I would like to make a statement which anyone can refute if they wish. In the Rossport case, which I mentioned earlier, the EU birds directive has been flagrantly and publicly broken. There has been interference with special areas of conservation. Work has taken place in the full knowledge that the relevant area was protected and without any consequences being invoked. I refer again to the notion that some projects are too big for public accountability and transparency in planning. I am not making accusations that I cannot support. I am certainly not attacking planners because I am in favour of planning. It is hypocrisy of the first rank for a Minister with responsibility for the environment to ask local authority planning sections to come up with compliance, while not providing those sections with the staff to enable them to do so.