ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan downplayed allegations of planning irregularities in his constituency despite a damning report outlining a litany of failures, including poor administration, officials exceeding their powers and failure to enforce planning laws.
Mr Hogan has refused to order an independent inquiry into Carlow County Council, despite a 2010 report which outlined a lengthy list of problems in its planning department.
Although an independent inquiry into the council and five other local authorities was ordered by his predecessor, John Gormley, Mr Hogan approved the decision to cancel the probes when he took office in March last year, instead favouring internal reviews by civil servants.
Last night, Mr Hogan was facing mounting pressure to allow the independent reviews to proceed, with Green Party leader Eamon Ryan saying that a panel of experts was ready to begin work when the probes were cancelled.
"Phil Hogan said before the election that the claims were spurious but he would go ahead with the inquiries," Mr Ryan said. "Most of these complaints dealt with processes, and the investigations could have been completed at a relatively low cost. These would be done if he was serious about local-government reform."
Mr Ryan's main concerns relate to problems in Mr Hogan's own backyard, Co Carlow. He cited a 2010 review of the council by former Louth county manager John Quinlivan, who found that several practices were "unacceptable" and should be changed.
? Allowing a former director of planning to prepare local-area plans, which are used to decide if particular types of development should be approved. This practice "undermined staff and placed the individual in an exposed position of being 'judge and jury' of one's own work".
? There was "excessive processing at director level", and a failure to record meetings between council planners and applicants.
? There was ineffective enforcement of the planning laws, and excessive consultation with people found to have breached laws.
The Fine Gael/Labour Coalition, which controls five of the six councils, has decided that an internal review by Department of the Environment officials will be undertaken before a decision is made to appoint independent investigators.
The other local authorities are Cork City, Cork County, Meath, Galway County and Dublin City.
There were also concerns about changes to planning rules in Meath, while meetings between Cork City officials and developers were allegedly not recorded and made available to the public.
Just two local authorities -- Dublin City and Cork City -- have released detailed reports they sent to the Department of the Environment in September 2010 responding to the claims.
The majority position the government parties have in two- thirds of all councils seems to make them reluctant to tackle local-government reform, said the Green Party.
Carlow County Council said it had responded to the planning-related issues raised by the Department of the Environment for an internal review.
Paul Melia and Fiach Kelly
Read the article @ The Irish Independent