Key planning and banking law ‘rushed through without proper debate’

MAJOR planning and banking bills have been passed by the Dáil in contentious circumstances.

Debate on the bills was “guillotined”, or cut short, yesterday to rush the legislation through before the summer recess.

It meant the Dáil never got to debate several changes made by the Government, or changes demanded by the opposition.

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009, brought forward by Environment Minister and Green leader John Gormley, aims to promote sustainable development and further modernise land zoning.

But the rushed nature of the bill sparked a complaint from one of the Government’s own TDs.

Fianna Fáil TD Sean Fleming, who chairs the Select Committee on the Environment, wrote to the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil to raise his concern about the way the legislation was handled.

He said the bill when originally presented to the committee comprised 40 sections laid out over 40 pages.

But as the process of debating the legislation continued, some 128 amendments laid out over 100 pages were added. “No revised explanatory memorandum was provided to members,” Mr Fleming wrote.

“Many amendments had far-reaching consequences, yet their context, purpose and rationale was not made clear to the members, and the ensuing debate was seriously compromised.”

Mr Fleming’s letter was raised in the Dáil yesterday by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, who said the situation was unacceptable.

“This is a planning bill – if a planning applicant came in at the last minute with additional information that was two and a half times the size of the original planning application, we would be going to An Bord Pleanála with it,” Mr Gilmore said.

In response, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said she could “appreciate the annoyance” over the issue.

“I note that and will ensure that in future all departments are advised that explanatory memoranda on significant changes must be made available to members,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Government needed the support of two Independents to pass the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010, a central aim of which is to improve the system of financial regulation.

The Government won the vote by 69 to 65, but two of those who voted for the bill were Independents Joe Behan and Finian McGrath.

If they had voted with the opposition, it would have tied the vote 67-67.

In such a scenario, the Government would have had to rely on the casting vote of the Ceann Comh- airle to pass the legislation.

Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said: “The decision of two Independent deputies to vote with the Government saved Fianna Fáil and the Greens from the potentially embarrassing situation of having to rely on the casting vote of the Ceann Comhairle to save them on a key financial measure.”


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