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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
RollingNews.ie
# planning matters
Timeline: How the An Bord Pleanála controversy went from the Dáil to the DPP
The report by senior counsel Remy Farrell has also been sent to Sipo and the gardaí.

AFTER SEVERAL MONTHS of investigation, a report compiled on alleged conflicts of interest by the former deputy chairperson of An Bord Pleanála (ABP) has been referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by the Government.

It follows months of controversy that had followed the planning authority, leading to the resignation of the deputy chairperson of the planning authority, Paul Hyde, in early July.

Allegations of conflicts of interest first began to emerge in April, with news site The Ditch first reporting that Hyde had not declared any conflict of interest after he refused planning permission for a development that was near land owned by a company in which he had a 25% stake.

Hyde had originally taken up the role as deputy chairperson of ABP in 2019 and has denied all allegations made against him of potential conflicts of interest.

Two more reports were then released by The Ditch, with one reporting that Hyde had voted against a housing scheme that bordered land that was owned by his father.

The first report was then raised in the Dáil on 27 April by Social Democrats housing spokesperson, Cian O’Callaghan.

Investigation announced

Hours later, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien announced that he had appointed senior counsel Remy Farrell to provide a report on the allegations of conflict of interest, adding that the allegations had been denied by Hyde.

The report was welcomed by members of the opposition, including Chair of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Sinn Féin TD Brian Stanley, who said that the matter was “very serious” and that it needed to be scrutinised.

On 4 May, ABP announced that it would cooperate with Farrell’s investigation and that the planning authority had sought legal advice on the matter.

Just five days later on 9 May, ABP updated their statement saying that Hyde had agreed with chairperson Dave Walsh to temporarily step back from his role as deputy chairperson.

Later that week, at Leaders’ Questions on 11 May, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that both terms of reference and a timeline for the report was being finalised by the Housing Minister.

Outlining the initial timeline, Martin told the Dáil that O’Brien was made aware of correspondence between Hyde and the secretary of the ABP board.

“This concerns a conflict of interest disclosed by Mr Hyde on 3 May 2022 in relation to a 2021 board decision. Mr Hyde states in his correspondence that he only became aware of this conflict of interest on 28 April 2022,” the Taoiseach told the Dáil.

After O’Brien became aware of this matter on 6 May, he requested a report from Walsh and was informed that Hyde had stepped aside temporarily.

The final terms of reference of the report were released by the Housing Minister on 12 May, with the inquiry examining three planning decisions which were made by Hyde.

The three decisions that were included in the terms of reference were:

  • A decision on a Strategic Housing Development (SHD) at the Distillery Quarter in Blackpool, Co Cork;
  • A decision on a proposed development at Gilford Park in Sandymount, Co Dublin;
  • A decision on a proposed development at Castlelake in Carrigtwohill, Co Cork.

Farrell was also given scope within the terms of reference to expand the probe and examine matters of concern “he considers necessary and appropriate”.

While the report had initially been expected to be delivered at the end of June, it was pushed back an additional month.

In addition, there were reports from the Irish Examiner about how Hyde had suggested changes to a planning inspector’s report and had sworn an affidavit on the matter in 2021.

Typically, inspector reports are how officials at ABP decide whether or not to grant permission for a project and what conditions to place on individual applications.

Hyde resigns

On 8 July, it was announced by a spokesperson for O’Brien that Hyde had resigned ahead of the probe being completed.  

Immediately, Labour’s Rebecca Moynihan called for O’Brien to have the publication of the report ‘fast-tracked’, adding that the public needed to have confidence in ABP while Sinn Féin’s Eoin O Broin said that the problems within ABP were “deeper than one individual”.

In the days following Hyde’s resignation, ABP’s Walsh appeared before the PAC and said that the planning authority “fully recognises” the potential damage the allegations have done to the board’s reputation.

Walsh told the committee that he had commissioned a team of senior managers to examine the current controls, procedures and systems that ABP uses to manage potential conflicts of interest.

“I will take whatever actions and reforms may be necessary and appropriate to
strengthen our systems and procedures to ensure that they are as legally robust and
fit for purpose as possible and practicable and with a view also to maintaining public confidence in the impartiality of the Board’s decision-making processes,” Walsh said.

The Farrell report eventually arrived at the desk of the Housing Minister on 28 July, three months after the investigation was announced.

O’Brien said in a statement that he would consider the recommendations made by the report and that he had provided a copy of the report to the Attorney General to review.

Over two weeks after the report was provided to O’Brien, the Government referred the report to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) after receiving advice from Attorney General Paul Gallagher.

The file was also sent to the Gardaí and the Standards in Public Office (Sipo).

A statement from the Department of Housing 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.

While O’Brien has said that he wants to have the Farrell report published, it may be partially redacted if the DPP gives such advice.