Law Society calls for amnesty on planning permission breaches

Move seeks an amnesty on residential properties built outside of planning regulations more than seven years ago

The conveyancing process is archaic and no longer fit for purpose, according to the Law Society

The Law Society is calling for an amnesty on residential properties built outside planning regulations more than seven years ago, as part of a renewed effort to deliver e-conveyancing for Ireland.

It’s been some 10 years in gestation, but the Law Society is now looking to take a different tack with its efforts to introduce an e-conveyancing platform in Ireland, one which could dramatically cut the time it takes to close a property sale to as little as five days, and save house buyers money in the process.

“Everybody agrees that the current conveyancing process, which is about 500 years old, is archaic and no longer fit for purpose,” said Patrick Dorgan, senior vice-president of the Law Society and chair of the Society’s eConveyancing Implementation Board, and a partner with Ronan Daly Jermyn, who describes the process as the “uberisation” of the conveyancing system.

It can take as long as six months to close the purchase of a house in Ireland, which offers scope for either gazumping (to offer a higher amount than the accepted offer) or gazundering (to lower the amount of the offer before exchange of contracts), or for either party to just walk away from a sale. Moving to e-conveyancing would rapidly speed up the process, the Law Society say, while also resulting in a more mobile property market which would free up spare housing capacity. The introduction of e-conveyancing was called for in the Government’s recent Construction 2020 document, which noted that conveyancing remains “largely paper based” and takes a “disproportionate” amount of time to transfer title.


Open access model

To date, it's understood that the Law Society has spent some €2.5 million on efforts to digitise the transfer of title, including working with Canadian technology provider Teranet. However, these efforts have failed to progress and the Law Society says it is now "weary".

“We still haven’t managed to get it off the ground, we’re at our wit’s end with it. If we can’t get traction on it at this stage, at a very good point in the market, in the economic cycle, we’d really have to throw our hat at it,” Mr Dorgan said.

To this end, the Law Society is now looking towards an “open access model”, along the lines of the system pioneered in Australia by Pexa.

“It’s the way we’d like to go,” said Mr Dorgan, adding, “it’s fairly radically different to what we’ve proposed before”.

This new approach would be jointly owned and operated by stakeholders including the Government, the banks, the Property Registration Authority, and solicitors themselves. But crucially, the society wants the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to take the lead on the venture this time, and has met with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy to seek his support.

It wants the department to set up a working group, which would engage in a review to identify the benefits and efficiencies of such a system, with a view to reporting by the first quarter of next year. After that, if all parties were on board, Mr Dorgan said the new system could be up and running within two years.

It’s a “once in a generation opportunity”, said Mr Dorgan, to build a property transfer system that’s fit for the 21st century,adding that it would also, “inevitably be cheaper”.


One regular problem which delays title transfer is when there are planning issues. However, the process of regularising planning could be expedited if one of the society’s recommendations are adopted. It wants to see a planning amnesty, whereby seven years after an extension, for example, has been constructed without the appropriate planning permission, no more inquiries would be allowed.

“It would take those blockages out of the system,” said Mr Dorgan.

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan

Fiona Reddan is a writer specialising in personal finance and is the Home & Design Editor of The Irish Times