Christian Brothers accused of sending ‘legal threat’ to councillors

Politicians were warned of ‘financial consequences’ of intervening in Clonkeen College row

 Land at Clonkeen College, in Dublin.

Land at Clonkeen College, in Dublin.

 

A letter from the Christian Brothers to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown councillors warning of “very real financial consequences” over any attempt by the council to rezone land at Clonkeen College was taken as a “thinly-veiled legal threat” by councillors.

The Christian Brothers plan to sell off 7.5 acres of playing fields at the school, which is owned by the organisation, to a property developer.

The plan has been criticised by the south Dublin school’s principal, Edward Melly, and its students.

On June 12th, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown councillors discussed what land zoning was in place around the playing fields.

However, ahead of that council meeting, the Christian Brothers property office wrote to all of the councillors and council chief executive Philomena Poole to say that any attempts to selectively rezone the playing fields “would have very real financial consequences”.

“We assume that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county council and individual councillors will take their own advice in this regard,” the letter stated.

A spokeswoman for the council said the land is currently zoned as residential, with the zoning objective “to protect and/or improve residential amenity”.

Several councillors said the letter was taken as a legal warning ahead of any future vote by the council on rezoning the land from “residential use” to “open use”, something which would explicitly prevent it from being used for a property development.

Barry Ward, a barrister and Fine Gael councillor, said the letter “was calculated to make councillors think twice about taking action.

“They don’t want us getting involved and potentially down-zoning the land. They are absolutely trying to strong-arm us here. It definitely was taken as a threat [by councillors].”

Motion

At the meeting, councillors passed a motion to instruct the local authority’s chief executive to draw up a report for the next council meeting on July 3rd, to outline if the playing fields’ current zoning objective “to improve residential amenity” would allow a property developer build on the land.

The report will also include an opinion on whether the council could be legally liable to a compensation claim from a developer if the council rezoned the land to block a future property development.

Following the letter, there is concern among many members of the council that they could be personally open to legal action if they voted to rezone the land.

However, it is believed councillors’ votes are privileged from legal action, and only the council itself could potentially be liable.

Cllr Denis O’Callaghan said the Christian Brothers’ letter was taken as “a thinly-veiled legal threat” to councillors.

“You can’t be reckless when coming to down-zoning. There could be a question of massive compensation or a constitutional challenge to the council [from a developer],” the Labour councillor said.

Green Party councillor Ossian Smyth said he also took the letter as a legal threat.

“The Department of Education has been steering clear of this [row], they need to get involved,” Mr Smyth said.

The Christian Brothers property office could not be reached for comment by the time of publication.