The latest inquiry into allegations of planning corruption in Donegal has run aground amid fresh uncertainty over how it should proceed.
Senior Counsel Rory Mulcahy was due to report back to Government almost a year ago, but there is now no deadline in place for completion of his work.
The Department of the Environment said: “Unforeseen delays have ensued due to ongoing clarifications being sought. However, the department is endeavouring to clarify matters in order for senior counsel to complete the review as soon as is possible.”
The whistleblower whose allegations prompted an earlier aborted inquiry in 2010, plus a later internal review that was overturned by the High Court, has pleaded for the Department to get the new probe back on track.
Gerard Convie, a former senior official with Donegal County Council, suspended his involvement with it when a sudden change in the terms of reference late last year revoked a confidentiality clause; after he had already given several lengthy taped interviews to Mr Mulcahy.
But he insisted he was not the reason for the hold-up. “I wrote to the minister at the time, Alan Kelly, and asked why he had changed the terms and what it meant for the transcripts of those interviews which at the outset were only meant to be for fact-finding purposes.
“I heard nothing back and I said I would have to suspend my involvement although I stressed I remained ready and willing to engage again once I got clarification about my situation. In March this year I got a letter stating the inquiry remained the minister’s priority but I’ve heard nothing more. We now have a new minister, Simon Coveney, and I’ve had no reply to my letters since.”
Questions over planning practices in Donegal date back more than a decade when Mr Convie began compiling a dossier of cases where he believed there was abuse of regulations.
He successfully challenged in court an attempt by the council to sack him and left voluntarily in 2007, now practicing as a private planning consultant.
He presented a dossier of 20 sample cases to the Government in 2010, prompting then Green Party environment minister John Gormley to launch an independent review. That process was abandoned in 2011 with the change of government and his successor, Phil Hogan, ordered an internal review. That was completed in 2012 and concluded there was no evidence of irregularities and questioned Mr Convie’s motive in making the claims.
Mr Convie challenged the findings in the High Court and in 2013 the Department of Environment had to withdraw the review, overturn the findings, and apologise to Mr Convie.
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