Dáil debates

Thursday, 28 June 2012

4:00 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the steps he will take in view of this month's report on planning irregularities in seven local authorities; if he will re-open independent inquiries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31297/12]

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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On 12 June 2012 , I published the planning review report assessing the application of planning legislation, policy and guidance within the development plan and development management systems at local level and to inform further policy development in this area. Seven planning authorities, representing a broad geographical spread of both urban and rural areas as well as both large and small authorities, had been selected to assist in the review of policies and practices by reference to a number of cases raised with the Department.

The report found that the allegations made, which served as the basis for the review, do not relate to systemic corruption in the planning system and no prima facie evidence of malfeasance was found in any of the seven local authorities. It has, nonetheless, raised serious matters ranging from maladministration to inconsistency in application of planning policy or non-adherence to forward plans such as development plans.

The report contains 12 actions and I am committed to implementing all of these through legislative change and consolidation, revised non-statutory guidelines and improved management systems in planning authorities.

I have decided that all actions and recommendations and the full review on which they are based are to be considered by an independent planning expert. This intended appointment is separate from the ongoing examination of the recommendations contained in the final report of the Mahon tribunal. I expect the Government will consider a comprehensive analysis of these in the coming weeks, including the recommendation for the appointment of an independent planning regulator.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The position being maintained by the Minister of State on our call for an independent inquiry into the seven named local authorities and County Waterford is completely untenable. What we have heard from her and others has no credibility and this is a very serious issue. Yesterday Judge Gerard Griffin sentenced former Fine Gael councillor, Fred Forsey, to six years following a guilty conviction on six counts of receiving corrupt payments. It is entirely in the public interest that people know exactly what happened in Waterford. How could members of Waterford County Council zone land while a Garda criminal investigation was in progress? The Minister of State is not serving the public interest with the course of action she is pursuing, particularly with regard to Waterford.

I remind the Minister and the Minister of State of Judge Griffin's comments. Yesterday, he stated Mr. Forsey gravely breached the trust of the electorate, the crime was in the upper to mid range of the scale and political corruption undermines the specific nature of society. He also stated it is very important that corruption should not be allowed into the fabric of society and that it causes inequality.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Deputy to frame a question please.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am getting to it. This morning we learned of a further call from two Fine Gael councillors seeking an independent inquiry. Why are the Minister and Minister of State engaged in a cover-up? For whom are they covering up? The public has a right to know. It is an issue of serious public interest. The Minister is laughing.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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How does one keep a straight face when-----

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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He is sitting over there laughing. I remind him it is a watershed moment for the Government.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Is it?

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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People are interested in this and it goes to the heart of ethics and credibility in the planning process. The Minister is sitting there laughing. Will he open an independent inquiry into Waterford because it is an issue of serious public interest?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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The courts are dealing with it.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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To just sit there and laugh is unbelievable.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It is hard to keep a straight face listening to this from a Fianna Fáil politician.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister can talk about straight faces all he likes. The Minister is the person who said there is no prima facie evidence. There is a criminal conviction.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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There is a court case.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I completely reject Deputy Collins's allegations. He knows perfectly well that what we were doing in this particular case was completing a review, and the word was "review", that the previous Minister intended to initiate.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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What about Waterford?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Waterford has nothing to do with it. It is not one of the seven local authorities selected by the former Minister, Mr. Gormley.

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Deputy Collins should get his facts right.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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We are completing the job Mr. Gormley intended to start but did not. This is all the review is, and Deputy Collins should not make it out to be something it is not.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am not.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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There were no allegations of corruption in the seven issues raised with Mr. Gormley. The review is completely separate from the type of corruption pointed to in the Mahon report. We will have a whole of Government response to the Mahon report in due course very shortly. The issue in Waterford is entirely separate and shows the court system works. Somebody was taken to court and found guilty and will now serve his sentence which is as it should be. However, it is on a completely different scale to the issues that were selected by the former Minister John Gormley when the Deputy's party was in the last Government with him. He selected those issues and they related to preplanning meetings, the height of buildings, local area plans and so on. He intended to instigate reviews on these issues, which have nothing to do with the kind of corruption mentioned by the Deputy, so he should not try to misinform the public on such issues.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am not trying to misinform the public. Waterford is a local authority like the other seven local authorities. Is the Minister of State saying that there is no issue in Waterford?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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No, I am not.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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A man was sent down for six years who had nothing to do with the zoning and who did not have a vote, yet councillors went ahead and voted through a zoning when a Garda criminal investigation was taking place. Does that mean anything to the Members opposite?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Of course it does.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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What does it mean to them? They sit there and they laugh. What does it mean for their credibility as Ministers, the credibility of their parties, or the credibility of the planning process? It is a complete disgrace.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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The Deputy is a complete disgrace.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am not a complete disgrace. This is a matter in the public interest-----

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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It is in the public interest.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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-----and the Minister of State is doing the bidding for the other-----

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Can we please have an honest debate on this?

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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We are having an honest debate.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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What I have completed is related to seven issues in seven local authorities selected by the former Minister of the last Government, of which the Deputy was a member.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Why was Waterford not chosen?

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Waterford was not one of them. I could not complete a review of Waterford if it had not been started.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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So there was a finding of corruption in Waterford, yet the Minister of State wants to know nothing about it.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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That is untrue.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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She does not want to know what happened in Waterford.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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That is not true. The Deputy is deliberately distorting what the reviews were about.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am not distorting anything. Why does the Minister of State not come in here and demand to know, in the public interest, what happened in Waterford?

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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We are moving on to the next question.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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Why do we have a courts system? The courts have found out what happened in Waterford.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The court convicted one person. What about the people who zoned the land while a Garda investigation was going on?

Photo of Phil HoganPhil Hogan (Minister, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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We just had a court case on this.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has no credibility.