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Fast-track housing collapsed amid Paul Hyde turmoil at An Bord Pleanála

Records released under Freedom of Information show board decision-making came to a halt

New evidence has come to light on the board breakdown at An Bord Pleanála in the fallout from the governance scandal at the body, delaying major housing projects.

Two weeks after former deputy chairman Paul Hyde received a suspended prison sentence for failing to declare personal interests to the quasi-judicial authority, internal files show how board decision-making on big housing and infrastructure cases came to a halt amid the turmoil.

The backlog of planning cases is one of the biggest legacies of the affair, which prompted Government moves to overhaul An Bord Pleanála. The restructured institution will work under a new name, An Coimisiún Pleanála.

Hyde resigned in July 2022 and was convicted last June for not declaring certain property holdings, after pleading guilty to two charges. He avoided jail after appealing his two-month sentence a fortnight ago, when a judge fined him €6,000 and suspended concurrent three-month sentences on each charge.


The then chairman Dave Walsh took early retirement from An Bord Pleanála last November for “personal and family reasons.” His departure came amid a shortfall of board members, after the Government failed to replace other departing members.

Records released under the Freedom of Information Act point to a collapse in the processing of fast-track housing schemes by the board at that time, undermining efforts to tackle the worsening housing crisis.

The board was supposed to be examining a large number of fast-track cases under strategic housing development (SHD) laws because applications had surged before the legislation expired in early 2022. The objective had been to speed up the delivery of new homes.

With An Bord Pleanála taking no SHD determinations for more than two months, the internal files show how a special board division was established for three weeks in a bid to revive decision-making. That move came alongside steps to expand the board, which now comprises 15 members, 11 more than at the height of the crisis.

It followed the appointment of senior civil servant Oonagh Buckley as interim chairwoman of An Bord Pleanála, in succession to Mr Walsh. She held the post until she took command in September of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

The Freedom of Information records, released by the Department of Housing, show Ms Buckley ordered the establishment of a “strategic housing division” within An Bord Pleanála on January 18th this year.

Nine days later, however, she asked Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien to dissolve the division. In a January 27th letter to the Minister, she cited “outstanding applications” for projects and general board business. Mr O’Brien dissolved the unit on February 8th.

Asked why it was necessary to set up a special division for three weeks, An Bord Pleanála said only four serving board members were available for decisions from November 2022.

“In the absence of a chairperson and deputy chairperson, the board was not in a legal position to take certain decisions relating to strategic housing developments and strategic infrastructure developments,” An Bord Pleanála said.

“That legal capacity was only restored when Oonagh Buckley was appointed chairperson and Chris McGarry was appointed deputy chairperson in January 2023.”

Ms Buckley appointed herself and Mr McGarry and board members Patricia Calleary, Mick Long, Peter Mullan to the SHD division. However, An Bord Pleanála said the dissolution of that same division after three weeks allowed “all board members” participate in the consideration of applications.

Citing the number of outstanding cases and temporary board appointments, the Department of Housing said the move provided greater flexibility “to ensure the backlog was addressed as effectively and efficiently as possible.”

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley

Arthur Beesley is Current Affairs Editor of The Irish Times