Thursday, 19 May 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
We know that two separate investigations are now under way into allegations of conflict of interest in decision-making of the deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála, Paul Hyde. One of the investigations is being carried out by Remy Farrell, senior counsel, while the other is an internal audit. The terms of reference for Mr. Farrell's inquiry were published by the Government exactly one week ago but they already appear to be out of date as further allegations have come to light. The Ditchhas reported that an inspector's report into the redevelopment of the Player Wills site in Dublin 8 was edited when discrepancies in the initial version were identified by a subdivision of the board chaired by Mr. Hyde. Separately, the Irish Examinerhas reported that in a case relating to a compulsory purchase order for a greenway in Kerry, Mr. Hyde suggested edits to an inspector's report that came before the board. A board member suggesting edits to an inspector's report when those reports are supposed to be independent of the board is highly unusual and very concerning.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde is not the only member of the board about whom allegations have now been published. The Ditchhas reported that another member of its strategic housing division voted on at least three planning applications in her own neighbourhood. One of these developments was less than 400 m from her home in Rathmines. According to the code of conduct of An Bord Pleanála, members are not supposed to vote on proposed developments in their immediate neighbourhood. Bizarrely, however, when The Ditchcontacted An Bord Pleanála and inquired as to what constituted an immediate neighbourhood, An Bord Pleanála declined to comment. By contrast, the Planning Inspectorate in the UK is quite clear that its members should not consider developments within a 5 km radius of their neighbourhood.
Separately, there have been further allegations that Mr. Hyde failed to recuse himself from an application that was supported by a report from his brother's engineering firm.
The terms of reference for Mr. Farrell's inquiry allow for the exercise of a certain level of discretion in respect of the scope of his investigation but this discretion appears to be quite limited. The terms clearly debar the investigation of anyone other than Mr. Hyde.
Given the centrality of An Bord Pleanála to the planning process and the absolute necessity that it retains the confidence of the public, can the Tánaiste confirm that the terms of reference for the report of Mr. Farrell will be expanded to include these further allegations concerning Mr. Hyde? Is any investigation being conducted or contemplated into allegations that another member of the board breached the code of conduct of An Bord Pleanála? Can the Tánaiste explain why An Bord Pleanála will not answer simple media queries on matters such as what constitutes a member's immediate neighbourhood for the purposes of its own code of conduct? Has An Bord Pleanála provided any updates to the Government regarding the progress of its internal audit of Mr. Hyde's decisions?