Mahon and all that

cungkring.com : That's Conway's Pub on Parnell Street, where apparently a lot of cheques changed hands between councillors and developers in the 1980s and 1990s.

It is almost twenty years since my colleague Trevor Sargent held up a cheque that he had received from a developer and saying it was “part of the corruption in here,” He had to be escorted from the County Council Chamber for his own protection, after Cllr. Don Lydon had placed him in a headlock. Incidentally, Don Lydon was the guy who “made a passionate case for the rezoning of the Monarch Lands” in Cherrywood according to Mahon. Today's a day to congratulate Colm MacEochaidh and Michael Smith who put the initial ad in the Irish Times that led to the setting up of the Planning Tribunal. It's also a day to compliment Justice Mahon,  his predecessor Justice Flood  and their colleagues for their work.

The Green Party has campaigned against corruption for thirty years. In Government we changed the Planning Laws to stamp out the corrupt decision-making in Councils. That was one reason why we went into Government was to ensure that this corruption should not happen again. Sadly the current Government want to reverse some of those changes. The Fine Gael Labour Government have stated in their Programme: “We will make the Planning Process more democratic by amending the 2010 Planning and Development Act to allow for detailed public submissions of zoning, and to rebalance power towards elected representatives.” One person’s democracy could be the seeds of another’s corruption.

I’m worried about the current Government with Phil Hogan in charge of this area of planning. He closed down the internal inquiries into planning in several counties, including his own. The Mahon Tribunal only looked at Dublin, who knows what skulduggery took place, and may still be taking place around the country? I believe many Councils are still attempting to rezone land for inappropriate reasons, rather than taking an evidence-based approach to land use planning.

The problem of the close link between financial donations and politics has not gone away. In Dún Laoghaire the current  chairman of the Council Cllr. John Bailey from Fine Gael accepted thousands of Euro from developers, but  returned some of the money once it was pointed out that he had exceeded the legal limits for donations. There were dozens of rezoning motions put forward in the last review of the Development Plan, including a Fine Gael proposal to rezone lands half-way up the Dublin Mountains. Even Alan Dukes was lobbying for land to be rezoned while acting as a Director of Anglo-Irish Bank.

Corruption can take many forms. It can involve the taking of illegal payments, or the making of morally depraved decisions. Many of the land re-zonings that took place over the last forty years were immoral and unjust. The corruption of rezoning is not a victimless crime; it’s a cancer that has left it mark on the cities and towns around Ireland. Hundreds of thousands of people are isolated from shops, schools and the services that they require. Some have to drive or take a bus  rather than walk to buy even a litre of milk. In our time in Government the Green Party changed our Planning laws for the better, but much of the damage had been done.

Eamon Gilmore's reputation is enhanced by the Tribunal's Report, but he must work hard to ensure that his colleague in Government don't undo the work that was undertaken by the Green Party in Government to reform our Planning System for the better.

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