Thursday 24 July 2008

Councillor facing alleged ethics code breach says everything 'above board'

A KILLARNEY town councillor is to be investigated for possible breaches of local government ethics legislation after he negotiated money from a developer in return for withdrawing a planning objection from An Bord Pleanála.

The councillor insists the money he negotiated was for the benefit of residents, not for personal use.

Under the ethics legislation Cllr Donal Grady could expect to be questioned by the chairman of the council, in this case the mayor of Killarney, as part of any such investigation. However, the mayor of Killarney, Patrick O'Donoghue, is not taking part as he himself is facing criminal charges for alleged breaches of the same ethics legislation arising out of a rezoning issue in Killarney town council in 2006.

Mr Grady (Ind) had twice objected to a retail and office development at the entrance to the Pinewood Estate after it got the go-ahead from Killarney Town Council. He was the sole objector. The latest objection was lodged in March and withdrawn on July 4th last.

This was days after Mr Grady hand-delivered letters to local residents, signed by the developer, saying a €25,000 contribution was being made for the improvement of entrances and exits to the estate. The letter said Mr Grady was the reason they had made many worthwhile changes to their planning applications in order to facilitate residents.

However, it was not clear last night if the developer - who does not deny making the contribution or writing the letter - knew the letter was going to be made public.

It has also emerged that levies of €71,825 had been imposed on the developer for infrastructural and road works as part of his planning conditions, a sum which did not include the €25,000.

Mr Grady insists the €25,000 was for the community. The cheque was lodged with a solicitor for the use of the community, and he himself contacted the council's ethics registrar about the matter to get his approval.

A council spokesman yesterday said it was this contact that sparked the investigation.

"It is all above board. Everything is documented. The money is for the residents and the cheque made out to a solicitor," Mr Grady said.

Under normal circumstances in an ethics investigation, under Section 174 of the Ethics in Local Government Service Section of the Local Government Act, 2001, the councillor could expect to be interviewed by the chairman of the town council, mayor of Killarney Patrick O'Donoghue and the town manager.

However, as Mr O'Donoghue has himself been investigated by the Standards in Public Office Commission on alleged ethics breaches and has now been sent forward for trial to the Circuit Criminal Court with regard to two alleged breaches of the legislation regarding a motion to rezone lands in 2006, the councillor said the mayor cannot be the one to interview him.

"Patrick O'Donoghue is not in a position to do it. This will have to bring someone from Dublin [from the Standards in Public Office Commission]," Mr Grady said.

Meanwhile, Killarney town council's planning department yesterday confirmed that levies of €71,825 had been imposed on the developer. According to the senior planner, Fiona O'Sullivan, the levies, for public infrastructure, included a special road levy and would have included works to the entrance and exit to the estate.

The works for which the levies were imposed were assessed by the town council engineer, and had been paid by the developer, she said.

Kerry County Council has confirmed the investigation is being initiated.

The council spokesman also confirmed that the investigation into Mr Grady will automatically be referred to a Garda liaison officer.

The Irish Times

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