The Standards in Public Office Commission has ordered two councillors from Killarney in Co Kerry to appear before it next month to investigate alleged breaches of ethics by them in attempts to re-zone land in the town.

It will be the first time the commission has held a public hearing to investigate the conduct of local authority members.

Patrick O'Donoghue is a Fianna Fáil member of Killarney Town Council. He is also a director of the tourism bodies Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland and he is managing director of the Gleneagle Hotel Group in Killarney.

Sheila Casey is the current Fine Gael Mayor of the council. She is also an employee of the Gleneagle group.

Last September, following a complaint by the Ethics Registrar of Kerry County Council, the SIPO initiated a preliminary enquiry into Mr O'Donoghue and Ms Casey to establish if they had breached ethics during an attempt to re-zone 20 acres of land owned by the Gleneagle Hotel group on the outskirts of Killarney.

The lands surround the Gleneagle and Brehon Hotels and are around two kilometres from the town centre. The re-zoning would have conferred town-centre development status on the lands.

Patrick O'Donoghue did not vote on the re-zoning motion, but he did meet his fellow councillors on the issue. Sheila Casey signed the re-zoning motion and subsequently voted for it.

The motion was passed, despite strenuous opposition from the management of the council. However, the zoning of the land has yet to be finalised after the town manager, Tom Curran, refused to act on the motion.

The SIPO has now ordered Patrick O'Donoghue and Sheila Casey to appear before a public hearing of the commission on 26 March to investigate charges that they breached the ethics framework of the Local Government Act.

Patrick O'Donoghue and Sheila Casey refused to comment when they were contacted this afternoon. However, it is understood that both intend to challenges the charges made against them at the public hearing.

The SIPO will report back to the local authority and to Environment Minister Dick Roche following its investigation. But it will also send a report to the Director of Public Prosecutions if any wrongdoing is found.