Tuesday, 4 December 2007

IRDA hit out at planning appointment procedures

A WEST Clare-based planning lobby group has vowed to continue asking questions about An Bord Pleanala's appointment procedures for board members following a recent inconclusive 150 minute meeting with the authority.

The Kilbaha-based Irish Rural Dwellers' Association (IRDA) became the first rural group to attend a meeting with representatives of the appeals' board last Saturday

Group acting secretary and well known Kilbahabased sculptor, Jim Connolly admitted there was still a number of unanswered queries, which were raised about two months ago in a Sunday newspaper advertisement, in spite of a wide ranging cordial discussion on rural housing issues.

Environment Minister John Gormley has been requested by the group to establish a Dail committee to conduct an immediate review of all aspects of the operations of the board following concern over recent planning decisions in a number of rural counties including Clare.

It wants to establish if the "extraordinary power vested in Irish society by the board is being exercised exclusively in the interests of Irish democracy".

It has asked questions about the appointment of board members of Minister Gormley, board chairman, John O'Connor and Irish Congress of Trade Unions, chief executive officer, David Begg.

Established in 1977 as an independent appeals body, the group argued the board was clearly intended to be representative of all sectors of Irish society.

Mr Connolly told The Clare Champion there was very little meeting of minds on many fundamental issues and recalled their question about the legal status of the appointment of two senior planning inspectors to the Board in 2001 was directed to Minister John Gormley.

He noted their claim about the "undemocratic" and underepresentation of rural people on the board, although one third of the Irish population lived in rural Ireland, wasn't addressed.

The IRDA delegation which include chairman, James Doyle, a farmer from Killamey; vice-chairman, Dan Morley from Westmeath,! and archaeologist, Dr Sean Caulfield presented the Environment Protection Agency's report on the Quality of Drinking Water, which attached no blame on septic tanks serving one-off houses for the presence of ecoli as the cause of this type of pollution was unknown. ' Dr Caulfield provided a map produced by the Royal Irish Academy in 1971 showing the huge proliferation of one-off housing where every dot represented six houses to illustrate the unique dispersal of the Irish population compared to other countries.

"The settlement system in Ireland is going back thousands of years and this is the way we want to remain.

"The 2006 Census shows huge areas of West Clare which has less than 10 people were square kilometre and other places with less than 25, which is repeated throughout rural Ireland,

"Efforts to impose restrictions on rural housing to reduce this to just a handful is a scandal. We made every point you could make to outline our case.

"We are pleased that a group from West Clare became the first rural group to meet An Bord Pleanala, but we are not finished yet and will continue to ask questions," he said.

"When the board was established by the Oireachtas over 30 years ago, Ireland was a very different place than it is today. The Irish people need to know if the immense power it has vested in this board of 10 people to make final decisions on all planning matters is being exercised exclusively in the interests of Irish democracy," he added.

The IRDA will continue its campaign for openness, transparency and democracy in appointments to the board by holding a national lobbying day for politicians in Buswells Hotel on Wednesday, November 28.

All Oireachtas members will be invited to discuss the potential need for a total review of all aspects of An Bord Pleanala by way of an all party Oireachtas Dail committee.

Clare Champion


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