Paul Hyde given suspended sentence and €6,000 fine over failure to declare property interests

Former deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála appealed two month jail sentence handed down in June after guilty plea

Former deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála Paul Hyde was given a suspended sentence and fine after appealing a jail sentence he was given in June. Photograph: Michael Mac Sweeney/Cork Courts

A former deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála has avoided jail after he was given a suspended sentence and fined a total of €6,000 over his failure to declare his interests in a number of properties when a member of the planning body.

Paul Hyde (51) had been sentenced to two months in jail by Judge James McNulty in June after pleading guilty to two breaches of Section 147 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which required him as an officer of the board to declare all properties registered to him.

Hyde, of Castlefields, Baltimore, Co Cork, appealed the severity of sentence at Cork Circuit Criminal Court and Judge Colin Daly imposed two concurrent sentences of three months on each charge but suspended them in their entirety while also fining him €3,000 on each charge.

Det Sgt Shane Curtis, of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau, outlined the background to the case to John Berry BL, prosecuting, and confirmed gardaí started an investigation after a number of articles appeared on digital media in relation to An Bord Pleanála.

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One articles was sent to Minister for Housing Daragh O’Brien, who has responsibility for the board, and he appointed Remy Farrell SC to carry out a review. Gardaí were separately tasked with examining Hyde’s declaration of interests.

He said he found Hyde was obliged under planning laws to list all his properties. In 2015, he listed seven houses in Cork - four at Pope’s Hill, two in Douglas and one in Baltimore - as well as an apartment in Castletroy, Limerick and a site with planning permission at Rathduff, Co Cork.

However, Hyde failed to include a small plot of land at the Pope’s Hill site, identified as Bed 59, which was described at the District Court hearing as “a ransom strip”. This was in breach of the requirement under Section 147 of the Act to declare all properties, the court heard.

Det Sgt Curtis said that in his 2018 return, Hyde failed to include all the properties that he had listed in 2015, save for one of the properties in Douglas and the property in Baltimore, which were exempted as they were principal properties, and this again amounted to a breach of the regulations.

Mr Berry BL said that under the Act a failure to declare an interest in properties when an officer of An Bord Pleanála was a summary offence that carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a fine of €5,000.

Tom Creed SC, for Hyde, pleaded for leniency. He pointed out that his client was prosecuted under Section 147 for failing to declare an interest rather than the more serious Section 148, where an officer fails to declare an interest that is relevant to any appeal or determination by the board.

He said that his client had failed to register all properties, save the two principal residences, in 2018 as they were all in receivership and he wrongly thought that being in receivership excluded him from having to declare them on his list of interest even though they were still registered in his name.

He said that he had failed to register Bed 59 in 2015 and 2018 because he had only a quarter share in the property and was under the impression that it was worth less than the €13,000 threshold in the legislation for declaring properties. It was sold in 2019 for €20,000.

Mr Creed said Hyde apologised to the court for his actions. He said Hyde had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty at an early stage and had not come to garda attention since the offences before the courts.

Counsel said Hyde had since resigned from the board and as an architect, had suffered huge reputational damage from coverage of the case and that it was a not case where it was appropriate to impose a custodial sentence.

Judge Daly rose to consider the case and, on his return, said that as a professional architect holding a senior position on An Bord Pleanála, Hyde should have been fully aware of his legal requirements. He said he believed Hyde had a high level of culpability.

He said he accepted that Hyde had not benefitted from his failure to declare his full list of properties, but he believed that his actions had caused significant harm in terms of perception as it was important there be full transparency so the public can have full trust in those in authority. He said he did not believe there were any aggravating factors in the case.

Judge Daly said he also accepted that Hyde had “suffered personally, professionally and reputationally” from his offending and he believed the appropriate sentence was one of three months on each charge which he would suspend fully and he imposed fines totalling €6,000.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times