Government accused of ‘blatant power grab’ in appointing temporary Bord Pleanála members

Soc Dems co-leader Catherine Murphy says ‘we’re going back in time on this’ with appointments

The Government has been accused of a “blatant and egregious political power grab” by giving Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien the power to appoint temporary members to the State’s top planning body.

As part of planning reforms currently before the Oireachtas, An Bord Pleanála will be restructured and given a new name – An Coimisiún Pleanála – while the decision-making and governance structures will be separated.

Planning commissioners, consisting of a chief planning commissioner and up to 14 other commissioners, will replace the chairperson and board members while a new governing executive led by a chief executive will be responsible for governance and organisation.

The overall board membership of An Bord Pleanála will be increased from ten to 15 but in light of recent controversies at the planning body, the Minister will move to appoint temporary members for a period of one year.


In the Dáil, Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy said this represented a “discredited system of political appointments that was done away with almost 40 years ago.”

“I don’t think you can make this stuff up, that we’re going back in time on this.”

She said if the plans go ahead “we’re going to see the last remaining shred of credibility, An Bord Pleanála’s independence, going up in flames.”

“Most of the members on board will be handpicked by the Minister entirely at his own discretion in a blatant and egregious political power grab.

“There is no disguising how dangerous and deluded this is.”

She said the Government is “taking a sledgehammer to An Bord Pleanála’s last remaining vestiges of credibility. And if the Green Party stands over this, there’ll be signing their own political death warrant.”

“It’s not too late to pull this deeply misguided and damaging plan that will destroy what remains of the credibility of An Bord Pleanála,” Ms Murphy said.

Minister for Public Expenditure Michael McGrath said the legislation will be published and “will go into the normal legislative process.”

“There will be pre-legislative scrutiny by the relevant Oireachtas committee and we look forward to seeing the outcome of that over the months ahead.” He said a “root and branch review that has been led by the attorney general and a whole team of national experts in this field is in my view, a very balanced review.”

“At the centre of this is about putting plan making at the heart of our planning system, about bringing increased clarity and streamlining the legislation and improving the functioning of the planning system as well. "

Ms Murphy insisted that the move represented “political interference: and said it “will not restore the credibility of An Bord Pleanála, It will do the reverse.”

Mr McGrath said a new process would be set out for the full nomination of members of An Bord Pleanála, which will involve a number of stakeholders. “It will be a public and open competition and it will be transparent and accountable. But he has to make sure that in the short term that the board can function and deliver its statutory functions to us as a country,” he said, referring to the Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien.

The Bill is back up in the Oireachtas this afternoon. Opening a debate on the legislation after Leaders’ Questions, Mr O’Brien said An Bord Pleanála has become an integral part of the planning system. He said the measures around appointing board members, contained in the Bill, are needed to allow the full functioning of the board so that it can deal with its workload. He said the appointment of civil servants would be made on a temporary basis for the period of one year.

He said there will then be an open competition for those seeking to serve on the restructured board. This was critical to increase impartiality and transparency, he said.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times