Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has asked gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions to examine the findings of a report into allegations of malpractice at An Bord Pleanála, to see if criminal proceedings are warranted.
r O’Brien handed over the report to investigating officers on the advice of the Attorney General.
He has also sent it to the Standards in Public Office Commission.
The report was compiled over several months by senior counsel Remy Farrell at the minister’s request following a series of media reports on alleged conflicts of interest in decision-making at the planning board.
Deputy chairperson Paul Hyde stepped aside from his position when Mr Farrell was appointed. But, Mr Hyde later announced his full resignation.
He has rejected any suggestion that he allegedly breached his duties.
Mr O’Brien received Mr Farrell’s report late last month.
His department said this evening he had also asked the DPP for advice on whether it could be made public.
Until such advice was received, the department said it would be inappropriate for the Minister to comment further.
However, the minister also announced that the Office of Planning Regulator will head up an independent organisational review of An Bord Pleanála.
The OPR will be assisted by independent planning experts from outside the jurisdiction and by senior counsel Conleth Bradley.
Mr O’Brien said the appointment process for board members would also be overhauled and the process currently in place for nominating members would cease.
He is to bring a plan to Cabinet in the coming weeks which will outline a new appointments process, underpinned by new legislation.
In another move, the minister is to approve a “substantial increase in staffing” for An Bord Pleanála.
“These additional staff members will be hired in tandem with the recommended organisational reforms set out by the OPR review to create a fully fit for purpose body,” his department said.
Mr O’Brien is still waiting for completion of a separate internal report from a senior management team within An Bord Pleanála.
“It is expected that this internal report will examine further allegations of wrongdoing.
“Mr O’Brien will decide on any further course of action, including possible legislative amendments, following consideration of this report,” his department said.
In the meantime, a senior legal officer is to be appointed to the board and monthly governance reports provided to the minister.
The developments follow months of media revelations about alleged conflicts of interest in decision-making by some board members.
Reports also included accounts of chronic understaffing, the rushing through of files with minimal assessment by board members and a lack of paper trails to show how decisions are made or why inspectors’ recommendations are rejected.
An Bord Pleanála has massive influence over construction and development in Ireland has it deals with all appeals against local authority planning decisions and directly handles complex cases such as major infrastructure projects.
Up to earlier this year it was also allowed directly make decisions on strategic housing developments.
“An Bord Pleanála stands at the apex of our planning system and plays a crucial role as the final arbiter of many planning applications,” Mr O’Brien said.
“In this light, I treat any allegations of inappropriate actions or behaviour by its members with the utmost seriousness.
“The public must have trust in the impartiality and integrity of our planning system if it is to function effectively in facilitating sustainable development.”