The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has said the public must have trust in the planning system.

Minister Darragh O'Brien was speaking after referring a report into the management of conflicts of interest at An Bord Pleanála to the Director of Public Prosecutions and gardaí.

He referred the report, completed by Senior Counsel Remy Farrell, on the advice of the Attorney General.

Last month, the Department of Housing confirmed that the then deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála, Paul Hyde, had resigned.

He had previously temporarily stepped aside from his duties over concerns that he may have had a conflict of interest when it came to some planning decisions. He denied any wrongdoing.

Asked today if he believed that public confidence has been damaged, Minister O'Brien said "there is no question", adding that he has changed how the board itself now operates.

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Mr O'Brien said that other steps he had taken before the allegations were made on how the board operates, include the appointment of a legal advisor to sit on the board that will report to him on a monthly basis, and the cessation of the two-person decision making panels.

He said there are other important pieces of work that are under way – one is the internal senior management team review, which was initiated by the chair of the board around other allegations of wrongdoing, which he expects to report to him.

The minister also said that included in the organisational review of ABP, which is being undertaken by the Office of Planning Regulator, are two experts from "outside of this jurisdiction" and working with them will be Conleth Bradley Senior Counsel and "I expect them to conclude that work within six weeks".

Mr O'Brien said this will "look specifically at process, at decision making, record keeping, those type of elements within it, there are matters there that have come to the fore that also need to be addressed".

He said the internal report initiated by An Bord Pleanála is an important piece of work, but said he will decide, based on legal advice, when he sees the outcome of that report "what we do next".

The minister said the current appointment process of members to An Bord Pleanála needs to change and said he will be bringing a memorandum to Government in September.

He said a new position in relation to marine planning will be done "by way of a different process to the current process", adding the post will be publicly advertised and a separate panel of experts will assess the application and make a recommendation to the minister.

'Very detailed piece of work'

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Minister O'Brien said he had received Mr Farrell's report on 28 July and having discussed it with his team and the AG and "based on the legal advice received", took the decision to refer the report to DPP, gardaí and the Standards in Public Office Commission.

He said he takes "any allegations of inappropriate behaviour by members of the board ... very, very seriously ... the public have to have trust in the integrity of our planning system if it's to function effectively to facilitate what we need in this country, which is sustainable development, both in the residential and strategic infrastructure side of things".

Mr O'Brien said he believes it is important that the report would be published as soon as possible, but is waiting for the DPP to say whether that can be done or should elements of the report not be published due to investigation that is now under way.

The minister said he could not comment on the content of report, but said it is a very a detailed piece of work done and focused on the allegations that were made.

Mr O'Brien said that he believes in transparency, and would like to publish the report as soon as possible, but said he did not want to do anything to impact in any investigation that is under way.

He said that the fact that he had taken the step of the referral to the DPP and An Garda Síochána, demonstrates "the seriousness in which I take the content of the report".

Opposition parties have called for the publication of the report as soon as possible.


Social Democrats Housing Spokesperson Cian O'Callaghan said all aspects of how An Bord Pleanála operates must be independently investigated.

He also said that it was "unbelievable" that a legal adviser had not been appointed to the board before now.

Mr O'Callaghan told RTE’s News at One: "I think if all the allegations in the public domain aren’t investigated independently it’s going to be hard to restore proper public confidence in the board.

"I think the board needs to clarify what process it had in place for the allocation of planning files and decisions and whether or not these were allocated on a random basis."

An Bord Pleanála chairperson Dave Walsh said the board is in the process of finalising its own internal review into certain issues and allegations raised with it.

In a statement, he said he will be providing a report to Minister O'Brien shortly on the findings of this review.

He said he also acknowledged the interim steps that have already been taken by the board to strengthen and more transparently document the procedures already in place in respect of identifying potential conflicts of interest, among other things.

The statement added that any matters or recommendations arising from the Office of the Planning Regulator's review of ABP's systems and processes "will be fully considered and addressed in the context of further strengthening our systems, procedures and controls".