Cullen bid to stamp out planning corruption

LOCAL authority officials and councillors will be forced to reveal their interests in property and business from next month as part of a drive to stamp out planning corruption.

Anyone who fails to comply with the new rules faces fines of up to 12,700 and two years in jail.

County councils and local authorities will be notified of the arrangements in the coming days, which will prohibit staff from accepting favours in exchange for work they carry out while in office.

All councillors, managers, staff and consultants employed by the local authority will have to publicly list their beneficial interests in business, property and land, as well as gifts they receive while in office.

As well as the threat of jail, anyone who interferes with the planning process or tries to hide their interests may be disqualified from being a member of a local authority for five years. Environment Minister Martin Cullen says the measures are needed to ensure people are able to place their trust in local government. These measures follow widespread allegations of corruption in the planning process, as well as glaring conflicts of interest among council staff.

A trawl by county councils last year resulted in 42 officials receiving warnings, five being suspended and two resigning.

Some councils were precluded from taking firmer action, due in part to less rigorous 20-year-old rules governing the conduct of local authority officials.

Mr Cullen said it was vital the same strict standards were required in national government as well as local government. “These measures are essential if, in the light of the actions of a tiny minority, public trust and confidence in local government is to be maintained and enhanced,” he said.

A code of conduct is to be issued to everyone affected by the changes which they will have to comply with from January.

A register of employees and members’ interests will also be available for public inspection, just as there is for TDs and senators. The worth of the individual declarations of interest, however, will not have to be revealed.

Liam Kenny of the General Council of County Councils, which represents local authority members, yesterday welcomed the move and said councillors would not have any difficulty complying with the provisions. Anyone who does not comply with the measures may be investigated, suspended or have their contract terminated.

The council may also refer the matter to the Director for Public Prosecutions, where anyone found guilty may face a fine of between 1,900 and/or six months in jail, or 12,700 and/or two years in jail.

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