Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has referred a barrister’s report on An Bord Pleanála’s former deputy chairman Paul Hyde to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Garda.
The move on Monday came weeks after Mr O’Brien received the report from senior counsel Remy Farrell into allegations of undeclared conflicts of interest in Mr Hyde’s work.
A separate internal An Bord Pleanála review of Mr Hyde’s work, under way for months, will examine “further allegations of wrongdoing”, a statement on Monday from Mr O’Brien’s department read.
“It is now a matter for the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether a criminal prosecution should be undertaken arising from the findings of the report,” the statement said.
“The Minister has also sought the views of the DPP in relation to the publication of the report having regard to the possibility of a prosecution.”
Addressing this point, Mr O’Brien said: “I believe it is important that the report be published as soon as possible given the vital public interest in this matter, I have asked the DPP [Catherine Pierse] for her views on whether there are any parts of the report which should not be published at this time while the possibility of a criminal prosecution is under consideration. I will await her views before publishing the report.”
The referral to the DPP was made on foot of advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher.
Mr O’Brien has also promised to overhaul how appointments are made to An Bord Pleanála (ABP), saying he will bring plans to the Cabinet in coming weeks for an appointments process underpinned by new laws. A review of ABP’s operations by the planning regulator “will help inform other internal changes as required” and assist in identifying amendments to legislation which may be required.
Mr Hyde resigned in July after months of controversy over claims of impropriety in his personal declarations to the planning appeals body. He denied any impropriety but stood aside temporarily from his post in May, without prejudice to Mr Farrell’s findings.
He was deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanála since 2019 and was first appointed to its board in 2014 by then environment minister 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 the marine.
“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,” Mr O’Brien said.
“The public must have trust in the impartiality and integrity of our planning system if it is to function effectively in facilitating sustainable development.”
As well as overhauling how appointments are made to the board, Mr O’Brien said he would strengthen the agency’s workforce. He said he had sanctioned a further 24 posts for ABP which are currently being recruited and “intends to approve a further substantial increase in staffing for ABP shortly to ensure it is fully equipped to meet the demands of our planning system”. The additional staff members will be hired in tandem with the recommended organisational reforms, he said.
“I do not underestimate the work undertaken by the staff of An Bord Pleanála which is increasing as we work to meet our targets set out in Housing for All and other major infrastructure being provided under the National Development Plan,” Mr O’Brien added.