Saturday 30 January 2010

Councillors seek inquiry into issuing of permit

Members of Wicklow County Council have voted to ask the Minister for the Environment to hold a full public inquiry into “all aspects of the performance and functions of Wicklow County Council” in the issuing of a waste management permit in 2003.

The councillors, who passed the resolution by 14 votes to five, also resolved that the handling of a previous investigation by the Department of the Environment’s Local Government Audit Service (LGAS) be itself investigated.

Speaking at a special meeting of the county council, Independent councillor Tommy Cullen said the issue related to allegations that the council’s then director of services, Michael Nicholson, had ordered the shredding of a waste permit covering lands at Ballybeg, near Rathnew, in January 2003.

The waste permit had a commercial value of more than €400,000, he said and he claimed the Byrne family who owned the land could have lost their farm, been fined up to €12.7 million and faced up to 10 years in jail if they had been convicted of operating a waste facility without a permit.

A draft report of the previous LGAS investigation noted that Mr Nicholson had ordered the permit removed from the file and shredded.

The LGAS report noted that Wicklow county manager Eddie Sheehy had told the LGAS inspector he felt he had not been given accurate information by Mr Nicholson.

In an at times heated debate, Mr Sheehy said he was “appalled” to read in The Irish Times before Christmas that he had received inaccurate information on a number of occasions from Mr Nicholson. He said he wanted to make it clear that any information provided by Mr Nicholson was something Mr Nicholson had himself been told - “and not something he had made up”. He asked that the newspaper note his remarks.

However, he also acknowledged that inaccurate information relating to the waste permit was given to the Byrne family, the elected councillors and solicitors for the Byrne family, in denying that a waste permit had been shredded.

Mr Sheehy said the LGAS had ultimately determined that an “administrative error” had occurred, which had no further implications for the council. A new waste permit had been issued by the council.

He also said the Byrnes were ultimately able to realise the value of the reissued permit and the council had apologised for giving inaccurate information to the Byrnes’ solicitors. Mr Sheehy said he would co-operate with any properly held inquiry.

The Irish Times

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