Inquiry into Bord Pleanála deputy to consider report’s impact on ‘any criminal prosecution’

Minister for Housing published terms of reference for barrister investigating the work of Paul Hyde

It can be an offence for members of An Bord Pleanála not to declare a beneficial interest in a decision.

It can be an offence for members of An Bord Pleanála not to declare a beneficial interest in a decision.

 

The barrister investigating the work of An Bord Pleanála’s deputy chairman has been told to take account of “any criminal prosecution” that may be affected by his report on Paul Hyde.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien published terms of reference on Thursday for senior counsel Remy Farrell, setting a six-week deadline for an inquiry that has already led Mr Hyde to stand aside temporarily from this post “without prejudice” to the barrister’s report. Mr Hyde, the second highest official in the planning appeals authority, has denied any wrongdoing.

The investigation centres of claims that Mr Hyde was conflicted in some planning decisions as well as his personal property investments, his debts and his statutory declarations to the planning appeals body. Mr O’Brien has reserved the right to publish Mr Farrell’s report, not to publish it or release it with redactions.

It can be an offence for members of An Bord Pleanála not to declare a beneficial interest in a decision, and the law underpinning the authority states that a member of its board has ceased to be on the board if they enter a “composition or arrangement” with creditors. Mr Farrell has been asked to examine whether Mr Hyde’s board membership has ceased “by virtue” of such provisions.

The barrister has also been told to examine whether Mr Hyde “correctly disclosed to the board all relevant interests (including pecuniary and beneficial interests), assets, business activities and other matters” that are set out in law.

Mr Farrells also has the right to exercise discretion on the scope of the examination and can interview any board member or staff member ABP or any other individual he deems appropriate. He can receive and keep documents he seeks or documents given to him and can make “recommendations as he sees fit”.

With three specific planning decisions for review by Mr Farrell, the terms of refence make it clear that he must “have due regard to the potential impact of his examination and/or his report on any criminal prosecution that may be affected by his work”.

The decisions in question include a case where ABP refused permission in March for a fast-track apartment scheme in Blackpool, Cork, on a site near property owned by a company in which Mr Hyde had a quarter share. Mr Hyde’s stake in the company – controlled by his father Stephen Hyde – was never set out in his declarations of interest to ABP but he insisted it there was no need to because the company was dormant and not in effect carrying on any trade even though it owned property near the site of a proposed development.

The second decision for review by Mr Farrell centres on a planning appeal taken by Mr Hyde’s sister-in-law in relation to a Dublin 4 property at Gilford Park, Sandymount, she co-owns with his brother Stefan Hyde. Paul Hyde never declared his interest in the case a year ago when signing off the decision in favour of his close family member but insisted he did not know of his connection to the case.

The third decision relates to the board’s refusal in 2018 to approve a proposed apartment development at Carrigtwohill, Co. Cork. The Ditch, an online publication, has reported that the site bordered land owned by Paul Hyde’s father.

Mr Farrell’s terms of reference indicate that Mr Hyde’s personal property investments and debts will be scrutinised under provisions relating to his engagements with creditors.

The barrister has been asked to assess whether the second-highest ranking official in the planning appeals body made a “composition or arrangement” with creditors, a composition being a deal in which creditors agree with a debtor to accept a proportion of what is owed to them in full settlement instead of the entire amount.

Mr Hyde has told the Minister he was never “offered or entered into” such a deal but at least one High Court against him and co-defendants featured property that was in receivership, raising question about the status of his debts.

Mr Farrell must report on whether Mr Hyde complied with statutory provisions on the declaration of interests in his decision-making. He must also examine whether he complied with agreements to keep ABP’s chairman “promptly and fully informed” of his conduct of the board’s business and “of all circumstances material to or likely to be material” to it.

The barrister must also take into account agreements on Mr Hyde’s employment terms, a complaint alleging serious impropriety by Village magazine editor Michael Smith and letters Mr Hyde submitted to the Minister and the secretary of the ABP board.