8 May 2008 Edition
PLANNING: Rezoning row in North Tipperary boils over
Legal threat to Sinn Féin councillor who calls in ethics watchdog
By Ella O’Dwyer
A SINN FÉIN councillor has been threatened with being sued by seven North Tipperary county councillors for defamation after he asked an ethics watchdog to re-examine a controversial planning application in the scenic village of Puckane.
The issue of planning in Puckane was the subject of a recent Prime Time RTÉ television programme and is a recurring topic in the local media.
Sinn Féin Nenagh Town Councillor Seamus Morris describes threatened legal action against him as “arrogance of the highest order”.
The whole affair emerged out of a planning application for 24 acres made in the scenic village of Puckane and passed by North Tipperary county councillors in 2005. While residents welcomed some degree of development in their village, they felt that the proposed 24-acre development was too large.
Imagine the shock when it emerged that North Tipperary County Council had actually pushed through a development four times larger than that.
Unknown to local residents, the application was later amended to incorporate 105.2 acres.
The village currently has a population of 269 people and the proposed additional 400 houses promises to increase the population by in the region of 600 per cent, an increase which local residents believe to be untenable given the lack of infrastructure in the small community.
The action of North Tipperary County Council in allowing the planning application to go through has been criticised by local residents and highlighted by Councilor Morris, who believes that the county councillors were not acting in the best interests of people of Puckane.
Morris approached the ethics registrar’s office at North Tipperary Council to look into the conduct of the councillors involved in the rezoning.
In his letter, he said:
“I feel that the councillors have breached section 168 of the Local Government Act whereby, in carrying out their function under this or any other enactment, it is the duty of every member of every committee ‘to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest’.
“I believe strongly that public interest has not been served here and, more importantly, the public they are supposed to serve in Puckane believe that their best interests have not been best served.”
It would appear that some North Tipperary County Councillors were less than pleased that Morris referred the case to the ethics registrar and, two weeks ago, Morris was shocked to find himself in receipt of a solicitor’s letter indicating the intention of the seven councillors involved to take legal proceedings against him seeking damages for defamation of character if he didn’t apologise to them.
Councillor Morris describes the move as “arrogance of the highest order”.
He went on to say that, having survived the controversy emerging from the Prime Time programme and the concerns raised by local media, the councillors now want to silence any remaining obstacles to the development, including himself.
“It’s an attempt to bully me out of the way,” he said. “They had got over Prime Time and defied the people of Puckane and the one last piece of debris lying around that could resurrect this issue coming up to the local elections was me.”
Solicitor Michael Finucane, acting on behalf of Councillor Morris, told the solicitors acting for the seven county councillors that Councillor Morris would have been failing in his duty to the constituents of North Tipperary if he hadn’t addressed the concerns raised by the residents of Puckane.
Morris says he would prefer if the issue actually went to court so that the full details would emerge “and to give the people of Puckane the opportunity to see how badly they are served by their politicians”.
The Sinn Féin councillor added:
“If the councillors feel what they did was correct, they should have no problem bringing it to court. I want the people of Puckane have their day in court.”
A press release was issued by the Puckane Development Association on 28 April in relation to the whole controversy. It reads:
“One can only wish that the Nenagh/Newport councillors could save some of the misdirected zeal displayed against Councillor Morris and instead use their time and energy serving the public that elected them and rectify the still unexplained rezonings in Puckane.”