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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 3°C
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Bord Pleanála report should be published 'as soon as possible', says minister

The minister said it is now a matter for the DPP to decide if a criminal prosecution should be undertaken arising from the findings of the report.

A REPORT INTO practices at An Bord Pleanála should be made public, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has said. 

While he said he wants the report published “as soon as possible”, there is a possibility that some aspects of the report could be redacted, should the Director of Public Prosecutions give such advice. 

The minister said it is now a matter for the DPP to decide if a criminal prosecution should be undertaken arising from the findings of the report.

“I received the report on the 28th of July, and since the 28th of July I’ve been obviously reviewing and assessing the report and taking legal advice directly with the Attorney-General.

“And the advice that I got – which I completely agree with – is that the contents of the report are of such a nature that it requires referral to the Director of Public Prosecutions, to An Garda Síochána and indeed to the Standards in Public Office Commission,” he said.

The Government confirmed last night that it has referred the report into decisions made by An Bord Pleanála to the DPP.

O’Brien referred the examination carried out by senior counsel Remy Farrell on the basis of advice he received from the Attorney General Paul Gallagher. 

It has also been forwarded to gardaí and the Standards in Public Office (SIPO).

Publishing the report

“I want to ensure that public can can have trust in the impartiality of the board and the system,” said the minister. 

“I do believe the report should be published – but I obviously want to make sure the publication of the report won’t in any way impinge upon the investigation that will go on.

“But I have directly asked the DPP for her own views on the publication of the report – or are there aspects of the report that we cannot publish right now?

“I do believe in transparency, I think it is a matter of public interest,” said the minister. 

News of the referral of the report comes several weeks after the resignation of Hyde, who stepped down on 9 July while the probe was still ongoing.

Hyde had previously stepped back from the role after the investigation began and had denied all allegations made against him.

Within the terms of reference of the report, Farrell was to give his opinion on three separate planning decisions, including a decision by An Bord Pleanála (ABP) in relation to a housing development in Blackpool, Co Cork.

The minister said he is also awaiting the conclusion of a separate, internal report from a senior management team within An Bord Pleanála relating to other allegations, which the minister says he expects to receive in the coming days. 

The Office of Planning Regulation is also carrying out a review. 

The structure of the board and the review the OPR is carrying out in that regard, is very important, he said.

The OPR review will be assisted by experts from outside the jurisdiction. 

Issues where minutes of meetings where ABP overrules a local authority inspector’s decision should explain clearly the rationale as to why that decision was made, which is currently not the case, said the minister.

The Chairperson of An Bord Pleanála, Dave Walsh, noted the statement from the minister regarding the report being sent to the DPP, Sipo and the gardaí, stating that ABP is “committed to fully co-operating with these public bodies in determining whether further action is required arising from the report’s findings”. 

“Pending the completion of this assessment which may result in legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to comment any further on this matter,” he said.

The Chairperson confirmed that the Board is in the process of finalising its own internal review into certain issues and allegations raised with it and he will be providing a report to the Minister shortly on the analysis and findings of this review, as well as information on any proposed actions to be taken, including, in particular measures, to strengthen the effectiveness of the Board’s existing controls, protocols, procedures and systems to manage potential conflicts of interest.

Walsh also acknowledged the interim steps that have already been taken by the Board to strengthen and more transparently document the procedures already in place in respect of identifying potential conflicts of interest.

These interim reforms will be considered and reflected in the Board’s ongoing review of its Code of Conduct. He said the OPR report “will be fully considered and addressed in the context of further strengthening our systems, procedures and controls”.

The minister said he expects legislative amendments will be needed to overhaul some aspects of how ABP carries out its work, stating:

“I intend to bring a memorandum to Government in early September, outlining what I wish to do with regard to the future direction of the board”.

“The structure of the board, how the board operates into the future, will require  – in my view – additional changes to planning law.

The ABP chairperson endorsed the development of legislative proposals to reform and update the appointment process for Board members.

“The open and transparent recruitment of suitable candidates who can add to the Board’s broad range of expertise and society-wide perspectives will assist in ensuring an efficient and timely appointment process and reinforce our capacity to manage the substantial work before the Board,” he said.