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Barrister investigating An Bord Pleanála asks witnesses to destroy copies of draft report

Redacted versions of report on planning body circulated last month seen by some recipients as data breach

A senior barrister investigating “matters of concern” at An Bord Pleanála has asked witnesses to destroy electronic copies of her draft report after complaints about an apparent data breach.

Lorna Lynch SC was scheduled to deliver her long-awaited final report to An Bord Pleanála last week. But the planning body on Tuesday night said the conclusions would not be submitted until “the first week of May”.

Rocked by claims of impropriety in its decision-making, An Bord Pleanála engaged Ms Lynch 16 months ago to scrutinise 300 case files for any “conflicts of interest and objective or actual bias”.

Concerns raised previously about the work of former deputy chairman Paul Hyde led to his resignation in 2022. He later received a suspended prison sentence for failing to declare certain property interests, after pleading guilty to two charges.


Ms Lynch also investigated the allocation of files to board members and inspectors and examined officials’ statutory declarations, amendments to inspectors’ reports and communications with external parties outside formal channels.

The barrister circulated redacted drafts of her report to multiple individuals last month, giving each the opportunity to comment on her preliminary findings before she completed the final report.

Every individual was allowed to read only the references to themselves personally, with draft findings about other people blanked out. But some of the recipients found they could access references to other individuals in copies they received, raising questions over the redaction process.

At a sensitive time in the investigation with definitive conclusions still to be settled, certain recipients saw that as a data breach.

The barrister is understood to have asked the recipients to delete all copies of the redacted draft report from their computer systems.

There was no comment on that from An Bord Pleanála, which said Ms Lynch had confirmed an extension “to one party” until April 26th for a response to her draft report.

An Bord Pleanála chairman Peter Mullan “will consider the final report” once received, it said.

“The chairperson is considering whether any formal steps need to be taken on foot of the final report and/or whether to publish it either in full or redacted format. He will adhere to any relevant statutory or other legal obligations including fair procedure requirements.”

Ms Lynch had nothing to say when asked on Tuesday about the alleged data breach. “In circumstances where the process is ongoing I won’t be making any comment,” she said.

The questions raised over the redaction process come as the Government braces for a potential legal challenge to the barrister’s findings.

Certain individuals named in the draft are said to be carrying out a “legal review” of the preliminary findings.

People briefed on the barrister’s work said some responses to the draft report had presented the “risk” of a court challenge to the investigation process or the conclusions.

After two years of turmoil in An Bord Pleanála exposed weakness in the planning system, any such challenge would be a setback for efforts by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to stabilise the regime.

The ructions were followed by serious delays processing planning files, prompting Government moves to overhaul and rename An Bord Pleanála and recast planning legislation.

The quasi-judicial authority, now under new management, has apologised for such delays as it works through the backlog.

A team of three An Bord Pleanála managers examined hundreds of case files in 2022, saying in a leaked internal report that concerns raised about the handling of certain cases had “a factual substance” and had caused “unprecedented harm to the reputation and standing” of the body.

Ms Lynch was engaged in January 2023 by An Bord Pleanála’s then interim chairwoman, Oonagh Buckley, after she ruled out publishing the internal report for legal reasons.

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times