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Developer received demand of €500,000 for withdrawal of housing scheme objection, Dáil told

The housing minister said he had heard of similar cases before.

A DEVELOPER RECEIVED a demand for €500,000 in return for the withdrawal of an objection to a housing scheme, the Labour Party leader Ivana Bacik has told the Dáil.

Speaking during Leaders’ Questions, Bacik said she was alerted to the “ongoing case” last night.

Describing it as “concerning”, she said the evidence seen shows a “party seeking to use the planning process to coerce a developer to pay more than €500,000 into an escrow account, in exchange for the withdrawal of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála”.

“The party also insisted on the use of a confidentiality clause to cover it up. This feels like a return to the bad old days. In the correspondence I received, I saw evidence that this issue was brought to the attention of An Bord Pleanála months ago, but that no further action arose from it at the time,” Bacik said. 

Her comments come after RTÉ Investigates programme this week revealed developers coming up against such issues with serial objectors and multiple objections being lodged to residential and commercial developments across the country. 

Labour has signalled its intention to put down an amendment to the planning legislation currently going through the Houses “seeking to address this practice of manipulation and abuse of the planning system and of the withdrawal of appeals”.

‘Go away’ money

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government would be open to working with the opposition on such matters of making it a stand alone offence, though Varadkar told the Dáil that he believes that “requesting ‘go away’ money”, as it has been dubbed, in order to withdraw any objection, is already illegal under current legislation. 

Addressing Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien in the Dáil today, Bacik said as legislators they have to act to address abuses in the planning system.

“We have to ensure that our planning system is not open to this sort of abuse, because where it impacts in particular on residential developments it is people who lose out, and it is very serious,” she said. 

O’Brien said any amendments that are tabled will be looked at very seriously.

“I agree completely with the Deputy that this matter is urgent but we have to consider this legislation very carefully. I will work with constructive colleagues in the Opposition,” said the minister. 

Addressing matters raised in the RTÉ Investigates programme, the housing minister said he wrote to the Attorney General and the Department of Justice in advance of its airing, stating:

I find shocking.

“I have to say it is not surprising, because I have heard of cases. Regarding the specific case the Deputy mentioned, there was correspondence from the board to bring it to our attention,” said O’Brien. 

Bacik welcomed the minister’s commitment to work with her party on the issue of the need for a standalone offence.

“There are difficulties with using the existing criminal justice legislation to tackle this sort of corruption,” she said. 

Separately, O’Brien has said that a report on the costs of building homes “speaks to the challenges that we have” to tackle housing issues and said that there were still “major challenges” to affordability.

The minister was responding to questions from opposition parties about a report form the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) that indicated costs in the Greater Dublin Area have increased by an average of 24% or €90,000 euro in three years.

It indicated the average cost of building a three-bed semi detached house in Ireland ranges from €354,000 euro in the northwest to €461,000 euro in the Greater Dublin Area, which includes counties Meath, Kildare and Wicklow.