The chair of An Bord Pleanála told staff that allegations and media commentary about their work had been “hugely disruptive and disquieting”.
In a memo sent to employees, Dave Walsh said they had been under the spotlight during a “few very difficult weeks” amid serious allegations about their work.
He said it had been “significantly damaging,” and had undermined their reputation and integrity in the minds of the public.
Mr Walsh wrote: “While, as a quasi-judicial body, we don’t perhaps have the same scope to speak out in a public forum and address all of the issues being raised, I want to reassure you all that I fully recognise the seriousness of these issues and its implications for the entire organisation.”
The message was one of a series of communications from senior management to staff as they grappled with the fallout from the resignation of deputy chairman Paul Hyde and other controversies about their work.
Mr Hyde resigned from the board in July on foot of a series of probes into his conduct, decision-making and possible conflicts of interest. He originally stepped back from his duties at An Bord Pleanála “without prejudice” on May 9, only to resign from the board entirely on July 8. He has always denied any impropriety on his part.
Mr Walsh said An Bord Pleanála was cooperating with an independent review set up by the Department of Housing while also carrying out their own internal review. He said this would not be focused on Mr Hyde but on “all the substantive issues being alleged”, according to an email sent on June 8.
He concluded the email by promising: “I will do whatever I can as chairperson to restore full confidence in the board’s work and its reputation.”
In another email to staff in May, Chief Officer Bríd Hill updated staff on what she described as a “significant amount of media coverage”.
She said it was acknowledged that this was “generating concern and uncertainty among staff”.
Ms Hill asked if public-facing staff were contacted about what was happening at An Bord Pleanála that they would refer to an agreed statement to be posted on their website.
In mid-August, Mr Walsh again emailed to alert staff about “some news that is likely to be hitting the airwaves this evening”.
He said he had been informed that the report by senior counsel Remy Farrell into An Bord Pleanála had been received and that its conclusions were being referred to the DPP and Gardaí.
“Given the timing,” he wrote, “I expect it will be covered in tonight’s news and in the morning’s papers so I just wanted you to hear it from me first.”
Later in August, chief officer Bríd Hill again updated staff about how An Bord Pleanála continued to “feature significantly” in the media.
She wrote: “I appreciate it is very difficult to continuously see such publicity and scrutiny about [An Bord Pleanála].
“It does however, demonstrate its significant role in the overall planning system, its importance as a public body and why it was set up, and the values which it stands for of independence, integrity, impartiality and fairness.” She said these values were expected from the public and thanked staff for their hard work during what she described as “this particularly challenging time”.
In another email from May, Ms Hill asked staff to “reread and familiarise” themselves with An Bord Pleanála’s code of conduct.
She said she was aware there were particular concerns among staff and board members over how to manage “conflicts of interest”.
The email said: “For clarity, if you have any doubt about whether or not something may be a conflict of interest, please discuss with your line manager or the board secretary.
“The issue of bias and objective bias are explained in the Code of Conduct and should be at all times considered.”
Asked about the records, An Bord Pleanála said they had no comment to make.