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Minister for Housing, Local Government & Heritage Darragh O'Brien. Sam Boal/

'Significant public interest': Green Party TD calls for release of 2015 report into Donegal planning irregularities

The report was first submitted to former Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in June 2017,

A GREEN PARTY TD has called on Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien to immediately publish a report into planning irregularities in Donegal three years after the report was submitted to his predecessor Eoghan Murphy. 

Rory Mulcahy S.C. was appointed in 2015 to undertake a review into alleged planning irregularities at Donegal County Council which date back to the early 2000s. The review was first ordered by then-Minister for the Environment John Gormley who initiated an internal review in 2011.  

The allegations from a whistleblower who worked at the Council alleged that a former colleague submitted applications on behalf of family and friends and destroyed recommendations of other planners. 

Mulcahy submitted his final report in October 2015. Former Minister for Housing Murphy confirmed in 2018 that the report had been in his office since June the previous year. 

At the time, Murphy said: “My department is currently reviewing and assessing the contents of [Mulcahy's] report and I have requested the advice of the Attorney General in respect of a number of points.

“When I have received the attorney’s advice, my department will finalise a submission for me and I will be in a position to consider the report in full and to take any appropriate further action,” he said. 

Green Party TD Patrick Costello is now calling on Fianna Fáil’s O’Brien to publish the report “without delay…in the interests of public confidence in the planning system”. 

Costello tried unsuccessfully to have the report released under the Aarhus Convention which was adopted by Ireland in 1998 and gives the public certain rights to environmental information. 

“We have a bad history of planning irregularity in the State,” Costello said in a letter sent to O’Brien this week. 

“One of the many reasons that the Mahon Tribunal recommended an independent planning regulator was to ensure was to ensure a transparent process, separate to the political process, where planning issues could be investigated,” said Costello. 

“The issues have been before the courts and have been deemed to be of significant public interest,” he continued. “There is also significant public interest in releasing any parts of the report concerning systemic failure, procedural weakness or ways of addressing any wrongdoing,” he said. 

Mulcahy’s report into alleged planning irregularities in Donegal came after the Department of the Environment agreed to a High Court order overturning its own previous findings that there was no evidence of wrongdoing in the planning department of Donegal County Council.

The Department also agreed to pay damages to former Senior Planner Gerard Convie, who had made the claims.

Last week, former Minister Murphy told Sinn Féin’s Housing Spokesperson Eoin O’Broin TD that, having received the Attorney General’s advice, his Department considered the matter further and assessed whether ot not the report could be published. 

Murphy said that the establishment of the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) in April 2019, as recommended by the Mahon Tribunal, had further delayed any possible publication of the report. 

The OPR is tasked with reviewing Local Authority administration and planning functions and plans to commence its own programme of reviews over the coming months, said Murphy.

“These significant developments in the planning area have provided a wider context for my considerations,” he said.

“However, at this stage, it will be a matter for the incoming Government to agree the next steps,” he said. 

A spokesperson for the Department said: “Minister O’Brien will be examining this report and will make a further  statement in due course.”

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