Residents opposed to Hellfire centre referred to Garda by Sipo, court hears
Group challenges decision to categorise campaign on Dublin Mountains development as political
A residents’ group has challenged a decision by the Standards in Public Office (Sipo) Commission to refer to the gardai an alleged breach of political lobbying law over opposition to a plan to build an interpretive centre at Dublin’s Hellfire Club.
A former hunting lodge on Montpellier Hill in the Dublin Mountains, it was one of the meeting places for the 18th century Irish Hellfire Club which was said to be known for its debauchery and possible Satanic worship.
South Dublin County Council has proposed a €22m interpretive centre to include a sky-bridge between two forested areas.
Save the Hellfire Club, along with Rathfarnham’s Massy Woods Residents’ Association, opposed the council’s plan. They claim, among other things, it is an inappropriate commercial development which will damage a fragile environment and ecosystem. The application is currently before An Bord Pleanala.
The High Court heard on Monday that last November the residents’ association found itself subject of an investigation by the Sipo as to whether their campaign against the development was a political campaign and therefore subject to rules that any funding over €100 must be declared.
John Kenny BL, for Save the Hellfire and Massys Wood Residents’ Association, said Sipo decided the residents’ activities came within the Electoral Act and requested it to provide details of its donors.
Mr Kenny said this was a residents’ group with no political affiliations and opposition to a planning application could not be considered to be opposition to a political function of the council. His clients were “a loose group” with no purpose other than to oppose the planning application.
Counsel said Sipo last May decided, in view of the lack of co-operation from the residents over requests for information about funding, to refer the matter to the gardai.
There is no right of appeal should the association be convicted and the only way they can protect themselves is to take judicial review proceedings, counsel said.
It was their case that they were not engaged in a political campaign and the Sipo had no jurisdiction to require it to provide details of donors.
If the residents are wrong in that respect, they were seeking to have the law under which they may be prosecuted declared unconstitutional because it interferes with freedom of expression and lawful association.
Counsel said his clients could also not produce details of donors because it does not know their identity. This was also a restriction on the right of non-governmental organisations to participate in the planning process.
He was seeking an order from the court quashing the Sipo decision of May 23rd to refer the matter to gardai.
He was also seeking a stay on the making of any decision whether to go ahead with a prosecution. A meeting for that purpose was due to take place on Monday , counsel said.
Mr Justice Michael McGrath was satisfied the application, made on a one-side only represented basis, met the low bar for granting leave to bring judicial review. He also granted a stay on the prosecution decision on the basis the respondents could apply to the court in relation to that on 48 hours notice to the residents.
The case, against Sipo and the State, comes back in October.