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Land zoning: Watchdog makes findings against two Mayo councillors over conduct

Sipo found that both Frank Durcan and Cyril Burke contravened the code of conduct for elected representatives.

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THE STANDARDS IN Public Office Commission (Sipo) has made findings against two Mayo County councillors over their conduct in relation to land zoning and Freedom of Information requests.

Sipo found independent Frank Durcan had withdrawn a Freedom of Information Request after receiving assurances from Fine Gael councillor Cyril Burke about favourable zoning of his land.

It found that both Durcan and Burke contravened the code of conduct for elected representatives. 

This investigation had also looked at the conduct of Mayo County Council chief executive Peter Hynes but Sipo did not make any findings against him. 

It said there was no evidence he had committed the same breach of the Local Government Act as the other two council members. Sipo published three separate investigation reports today. 

This investigation relates to a site owned by Durcan in Aghalusky near Castlebar.

The council had previously raised a number of concerns -  including in relation to zoning – about a proposal to build a nursing home and 20 residential units on this land. 

In 2014, Durcan submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council asking for information about a senior official. 

It was alleged that he later withdrew the request because councillor Burke asked him to in exchange for favourable zoning of his land.

Recordings of telephone calls and meetings between the two men were used as evidence by investigators. In one call, Durcan sought assurances that his land would be rezoned:

“I put all my cards, you come back to me, you asked me to do something and that you have spoken to Hynes [...] if I withdrew the questions regarding [a senior council official] and that I’ve done and I want to see things happening because I want to go to my architect next week and start him”.

Durcan told the commission that he was “fishing for information and baiting Councillor Burke” but Sipo’s report notes he did not point to any particular exchange that demonstrates this was his motive or modus operandi.

Sipo found that he was in contravention of the Local Government Act, that this contravention was intentional and that it was “in all the circumstances, a serious matter”.

In relation to Burke, the commission found that he failed to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for public interest in asking Durcan to withdraw the Freedom of Information request.

The Commission finds that based on the evidence available to it, none of Councillor Burke’s interventions, either at the Municipal Council meetings, in relation to zoning, or in his discussions with Councillor Durcan regarding how best to obtain planning permission by way of material contravention, display consideration of the public interest or the common good.

The land was not re-zoned and the standards watchdog said the contraventions are not ongoing. 

In its reports, the commission found against Frank Durcan in respect of two of the three alleged contraventions and in Cyril Burke’s investigation it found against him on two of five alleged contraventions.

Mayo County Council chief executive Peter Hynes told welcomed the publication of the reports and said he has been “totally vindicated”.

Following an exhaustive and comprehensive process the Commission found no evidence of any wrong doing on my part and has made no findings against me. I would like to thank my family, friends, members and staff of Mayo County Council for their support during this time.

Head of Communications at Mayo County Council Martina Hughs said the council had noted the findings.

“No findings against Chief Executive Peter Hynes were made, while two findings against each of the two elected members were made,” she said.

“Mayo County Council are pleased that the Chief Executive has been totally vindicated by the commission.

“The reports will be considered by the corporate policy group and the full Council in due course.”

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