26 August 2004 Edition

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Planning scandal in Wicklow

WICKLOW Sinn Féin has called on Fianna Fáil Councillor Fachtna Whittle to resign following revelations on Prime Time and in the Irish Times that he failed to declare a professional interest in land he proposed for re-zoning last month.

This happened at a meeting of Wicklow County Council on 12 July on the county development plan. The meeting lasted 16 hours and ran into the morning of 13 July. Whittle proposed the re-zoning of a quarry at Ballylusk, near Ashford. The quarry has been the subject of ongoing planning issues. The vote was carried by 10 votes to 9.

Whittle is a solicitor with Haughton McCarroll and has represented the owner of the quarry, O'Reilly Brothers Ltd, in these proceedings. Legislation from the Local Government Act 2001, sets out a code of conduct for councillors relating to potential conflicts of interest. They must declare any beneficial interest on issues before the council and not take part in the ensuing debate and vote.

Whittle should have absented himself from any decision relating to that site, by declaring his professional involvement, says Wicklow Sinn Féin's David Gahan.

The Fianna Fáil councillor had been unavailable for comment initially as he was on holidays, but he was quoted in a Sunday newspaper as saying he had no financial or professional interest in any of the re-zoning. "My practice did have legal dealings with the owners of the quarry," he said.

"We in Wicklow view this as a very serious matter as it undermines confidence and trust in Local Government and councillors," says Gahan. "We in Sinn Féin campaigned throughout the country during the recent elections for greater transparency in Local Government but it seems things remain the same."

At the same meeting, a submission to re-zone 172 acres of agricultural land at Ballyhenry was passed by 15 votes to 5 after it was stated within the submission that Ardmore Film Studio in Bray was seeking to relocate and enquiries had already been made in Kildare.

However, Ardmore this week stated they had no intention of moving and no interest in the Ashford site. This begs the question, were the councillors misled or why nobody thought of checking with Ardmore before voting?

"The fact that so many re-zonings were rushed through brings into question the whole running of the meeting and the unprofessional way of dealing with such important issues," says Gahan.

"Once again people in Wicklow are confused and rightly distrustful of the planning process in the county."

An Phoblacht
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