The operations of An Bord Pleanála are set to be overhauled after a barrister’s report on the planning body’s former deputy chairman, Paul Hyde, was sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions and Garda.
In an attempt to boost public confidence in the planning board, it will be required to submit monthly reports on corporate governance to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.
Mr Hyde resigned in July after denying claims he was conflicted in some planning cases and impropriety in his legal declarations to the planning board. He declined to comment last night.
As the Minister referred the report by senior counsel Remy Farrell to prosecutors, he said a separate planning board review will examine “further allegations” of wrongdoing but did not elaborate further.
Mr O’Brien said he wants to publish the Farrell report but must hear first from Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Catherine Pierse.
“I have asked the DPP for her views on whether there are any parts of the report which should not be published at this time while the possibility of a criminal prosecution is under consideration,” the Minister said.
“An Bord Pleanála stands at the apex of our planning system and plays a crucial role as the final arbiter of many planning applications. In this light, I treat any allegations of inappropriate actions or behaviour by its members with the utmost seriousness.”
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Controversy arose in the spring over Mr Hyde when his work as the second most senior planning board official was questioned by the Ditch, an online news outlet, and other media.
Mr O’Brien appointed Mr Farrell to investigate conflict of interest claims that led to public scrutiny of Mr Hyde’s personal property investments, his debts and his statutory declarations to the board, a quasi-judicial body.
He was deputy chairman of the planning board since 2019 and was first appointed to it in 2014 by then minister for the environment Phil Hogan. He once co-owned a yacht with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who appointed him to the board of the Irish Marine Institute when he had ministerial responsibility for that portfolio.
Referral of the barrister’s report to the DPP and Garda was made on foot of advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher. The report has also been sent to the Standards in Public Office Commission, which oversees ethics legislation.
Mr O’Brien said the public “must have trust in the impartiality and integrity” of the planning system if it is to function effectively.
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He promised to overhaul how appointments are made to the board of the planning body — a political process at present — and added that he will bring plans to Cabinet in the coming weeks for an appointments procedure underpinned by new laws.
Mr O’Brien said he had sanctioned recruitment to 24 posts at the planning board, which was under way already, adding that he intends “a further substantial increase” in staffing resources for the authority.
The Minister said a separate review of the planning board’s operations by regulator Niall Cussen “will help inform other internal changes as required” and assist in identifying amendments to legislation which may be required.
In addition, the planning body itself was undertaking a “comprehensive review” of its code of conduct and there will be a “complete cessation” of planning decisions by two-person panels.
It will also conduct “an internal review” on whether there should be any revision of the system for allocating files, decision procedures and amendments to inspector’s reports.
“As a matter of priority, it is intended that a senior legal advisor will be appointed to the board subject to approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.”