A GROUP representing rural householders is to tell an Oireachtas committee tomorrow it believes thousands of decisions made by Bord Pleanála may be illegal.
The Irish Rural Dwellers Association (IRDA) claims the composition of the 11-member board of the planning appeals body does not reflect the wide variety of interests in Irish society as the law suggests it should.
IRDA spokesman Jim Connolly said the Oireachtas Environment Committee should investigate the way the membership was appointed. “If there is a question mark about the appointments, it has the potential to call into question every decision made by the board since 2002,” he said.
Under the law, board members — who handled more than 5,600 cases last year alone — can be picked from 40 different organisations, including trade unions, the community, voluntary, youth and disability areas, the arts, farming, business and construction sectors or “professions or occupations that relate to physical planning, engineering and architecture”.
However, all but one of the 11 members currently belong to the last category. Three have come from the staff of An Bord Pleanála and two from the Department of the Environment while the other five have worked in architecture, engineering and planning in the private or public sector or both.
Only one comes from a different discipline. Brian Swift is a former public representative from Waterford who also practiced as a solicitor and lectured in law in Waterford Institute of Technology.
Membership is by ministerial appointment and the Minister for the Environment and An Bord Pleanála have insisted the board is properly constituted but Mr Connolly said the rural voice was not being heard, especially on the contentious issue of permissions for one-off rural housing.
Committee chairman Fianna Fáil deputy Sean Fleming said the IRDA would be allowed put on record its concerns and issues raised would be followed up if required. However, he said his personal view was that many of the IRDA’s complaints could be dealt with by examining the performance of local authorities which represented the first stage in the planning process.
“I don’t want to focus on the membership of An Bord Pleanála because for every one application that ends up with An Bord Pleanála, another half dozen are finalised by local authorities so that is where the real influence is,” he said.
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