Bord Pleanála must be beyond ‘any perception’ of inappropriate behaviour – Martin

Taoiseach says Government not satisfied with level of litigation taken against planing body

The independence of An Bord Pleanála is important and has to be beyond "any perception" of potential inappropriate behaviour, Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin has also said the Government is not satisfied with the level of litigation being taken against An Bord Pleanála and additional resources have been provided.

The Taoiseach was addressing concerns raised by Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy during Leader's Questions in the Dáil on Wednesday.

Ms Murphy said An Bord Pleanála was “in the midst of the biggest crisis in its history” with its independence and professional integrity “all in question”.

Paul Hyde, the deputy chairman of An Bord Pleanála has temporarily stepped aside from his role amid growing disquiet in planning and political circles over claims of impropriety in his personal declarations to the planning authority.

He had insisted the allegations made against him were groundless. On Friday, however, he acknowledged an undeclared conflict of interest when signing off a decision in an appeal taken by his sister-in-law.

Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien has asked senior counsel Remy Farrell to report on the claims.

Mr Martin told the Dáil on Tuesday that Mr Hyde would not be in attendance in the board’s offices, have access to the board’s electronic systems or documentation and his case files had been reassigned to “ensure the efficient discharge of the functions of the board” until investigations were completed.

Ms Murphy said “are we to understand that he [Mr Hyde] retained that access” up until last week.

“It doesn’t exactly scream best practice,” she said.

Legal fees

The Kildare North TD said in 2020, it had spent €8 million, a quarter of its €31 million annual budget, on legal fees.

"This is perhaps unsurprising given that the High Court is the only forum to appeal SHD [strategic housing development] decisions which bypass local planning authorities and go straight to An Bord Pleanála," she said.

“So how is it fairing in relation to these cases and it doesn’t appear it’s fairing very well. Of the 40 SHD judicial reviews decided so far, An Bord Pleanála has successfully defended just three.

“Any planning authority spending 25 per cent of its budget defending its own decisions in court and losing a majority of them has a serious credibility issue.”

Mr Martin said the Office of the Planning Regulator had wrote to the chairperson of An Bord Pleanála requesting him to outline the systems and procedures it has in place to ensure “effective compliance with the statutory duties provided for in the Planning acts regarding declaration of interests and any other information considered relevant”.

He said An Bord Pleanála had responded to this request and the Planning Regulator was considering its response.

The Taoiseach said the terms of reference of the report were being finalised by Mr Farrell and they would be published and there wouldn't be any "undue delay". He said there could not be "any perception of any potential inappropriate behaviour" or "failure to disclose" at An Bord Pleanála and stressed that he was making such comments without any judgment and without prejudice.