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29 November 2007 Edition

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Red letter day for planning corruption

BY PHILIP CONNOLLY

THERE are times in public life when the social results of bad governance deliver a shudder, a jolt, or even an out-and-out purge of the body politic. Whether it be the case of child molester Fr Brendan Smyth, as reported to an unsuspecting public in 1994, or Charlie Haughey being ratted out by former Justice Minister Seán Doherty on Shay Healy’s excellent Nighthawks two years earlier, RTE’s Prime Time should also serve as a red letter day to local authorities throughout Ireland.
The subject matter concerned the ease in which developers and, more worryingly, elected councillors can circumvent the planning regulations, and how the ideologically bankrupt Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael parties have wrenched the power of the regulations away from the people.
In Wexford, where local Sinn Féin Councillor John Dwyer has campaigned tirelessly against persistent irregularities in planning and zoning issues, we were introduced to Fianna Fáil councillor, auctioneer and landowner’s agent, Lorcan Allen. Allen (who in the past has admitted to forging Bertie Ahern’s signature on party documents) sat in on all meetings concerning the building of the Gorey by-pass despite the fact that he was an agent for the landowners.
All of which is highly illegal and all of which was omitted from Allen’s Declaration of Interest form, a legal document, for which incompliant councillors can face up to two years in prison.
The massive over-development and resulting lack of infrastructure in the once tiny Courtown is confirmation of the grubbing self-regard of the two main political parties. Sinn Féin’s John Dwyer is adamant that such practices are evident right across the county. The popular councillor’s omission from the programme was a serious oversight by the programme makers.
Having campaigned against Fianna Fáil-led developments which now dump raw sewage into the River Barrow, Waterford Harbour at Duncannon and New Ross, Dwyer is currently campaigning on the dubious affairs surrounding the knock-down sale of public lands, earmarked for social housing, to Wexford Racecourse by both of the main political parties on Wexford County Council. Watch this space.


Over in Tipperary, Sinn Féin Councillor Seamus Morris says:
“Corruption isn’t just about money. To me, it also means corruption of the relationship between the people and those whose responsibility it is to represent them.” Seamus has been campaigning with the people of Pocán against the transformation of their picturesque village into an expansive rat-run-suburb of Limerick.
The plans, having been rejected by the residents, came back in the final phase as an even larger development. The problem for the people of Pocán is the fact that a staggering one out of every three Tipperary county councillors is an estate agent.
Seamus has no ambiguity as to the widespread abuses of zoning across the county.
“The level of corruption here is unbelievable. There is no regard for sustainability. There is no regard for quality of life. The Declaration of Interests is an irrelevance to these people.”  
And the programme makers would confirm this. It took six months solid to find any of the relevant documentation on the interests of councillors.


In Monaghan, the Prime Time programme failed to confirm the success of the Sinn Féin-led council against these types of over-development.
Despite the intense pressure being brought to bear on the south of the county, which is just 55 miles from Dublin, there has not been over-development of the towns there, Inniskeen being the only village that was zoned and developed for commuter-style housing. This development was, after local public consultation, opposed by Sinn Féin. Ironically, the vote that carried the day was by Green Party Councillor Vincent Martin, the former Independent who was the main contributor to the Prime Time item on Monaghan.
Sinn Féin Councillor Matt Carthy said:
“As soon as development plans are made available, Sinn Féin in Monaghan proceed to consult with the public in a very intense way. None of the development plans which are unpopular with the people are voted for by Sinn Féin.
“Sinn Féin have placed a large responsibility on developers to provide playground facilities, quality pedestrian and disabled access, sewage works, etc. These are all written into planning laws here in Monaghan and that is down to Sinn Féin.
“Perhaps it is because of the prominence of Sinn Féin around the country in these matters that they had to find something to nit-pick, here where Sinn Féin is strongest. But we completely reject spurious claims by Councillor Vincent Martin who is motivated by political career considerations.”


The programme also reported on the sleazy shenanigans by developers in Killarney, County Kerry, who are prepared to turn the town centre into a ghost town in order to build a new centre on the outskirts. Again, despite direct canvassing of individual councillors, no information was forthcoming in regard to the Declaration of Interests.
All of the Sinn Féin councillors in the Prime Time programme are in agreement that a national audit should be made concerning Declarations of Interest.
We cannot hope to achieve a fair and just society while the public are dictated to by an unfettered free market and where the value on families’ lives, their environment and local governance is decided exclusively by fat cat developers and private interests.
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An Phoblacht
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