Housing Minister has not discussed ABP investigation with country's watchdogs

An Bord Pleanála has been in the spotlight since its deputy chairman Paul Hyde stepped back from his duties on a “strictly without prejudice” basis
Housing Minister has not discussed ABP investigation with country's watchdogs

Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien said that he and his officials have not raised the issue with either the Corporate Enforcement Agency or the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The Housing Minister has not had any contact with Ireland's ethics or corporate watchdogs following an investigation of different issues at An Bord Pleanála.

The board has been in the spotlight since its deputy chairman Paul Hyde stepped back from his duties on May 9, on a “strictly without prejudice” basis after an independent investigation into his decision-making was established under the stewardship of senior counsel Remy Farrell. 

The investigation into the conduct at the planning board initially concerned itself with potential conflicts of interest within Mr Hyde’s decision-making, including one example of him granting planning permission for a house extension to his sister-in-law, overruling his own planning inspector in the process. 

Mr Hyde has always denied any impropriety. Mr Farrell delivered his report - one of three to be carried out - to Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien on July 28, though no timeline for its publication has yet been set out.

In a response to a parliamentary question from Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, Mr O'Brien said that he and his officials have not raised the issue with either the Corporate Enforcement Agency (CEA) or the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).

"Neither I, nor my officials, have been contacted by or engaged with the Corporate Enforcement Authority and or The Standards in Public Office Commission in respect of the review of certain matters at An Bord Pleanála."

The Irish Examiner has previously reported that a complaint has been made to SIPO about the matter but there has been no indication that any investigation is to be launched.

A Sipo spokesperson said: "Due to the confidential nature of the Standards in Public Office Commission’s functions in the examination of complaints against individuals, we do not comment on any individual case. Please note that this should not be seen as confirmation or otherwise as to whether a complaint has been received by the Commission."

Asked why there has been no contact with the two watchdogs, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing told the Irish Examiner that there would be no statement beyond one issued when Mr O'Brien received the Farrell Report.

That statement said: "Minister O’Brien will now consider the report and its recommendations. Minister O’Brien has furnished a copy of the report to the Attorney General for his review and advices."

A CEA spokesperson said: "Owing to statutory obligations of confidentiality, the CEA does not comment upon its investigative activities."

Catherine Murphy said: "The revelations relating to An Bord Pleanala over the past number of months that have been reported on by journalists at the Irish Examiner and The Ditch Media underscore calls many of us have been making on the political side, the review of ABP should be broader and should involve other statutory bodies. 

"It's time the Minister faced this reality and displayed some proactive direction and engaged with SIPO and others in order to get a fuller view of what, if any, conflicts he should be scrutinising."

Speaking last month, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the system must change for how members of the board are appointed, and that the investigations worry him.

“I am [worried],” he said. “I don’t like to see it, I am concerned about it yes."

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