Thursday, 28 June 2012
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]
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?