NATIONAL policy on rural Ireland has been condemned by a West Clare councillor, who said it has resulted in an “expensive refusal kit” for planning applications.
Councillor PJ Kelly tabled a motion at the January meeting of the local authority, calling for the Minister for Housing and Local Government and Heritage “to indemnify Clare County Council against all costs and/or claims which may arise because the Council, in its County Development Plan, complied with Ministerial Directives on planning guidelines”.
Councillors were widely critical of controversial guidelines, over several months, due mainly to the restrictions placed on the number of new homes to be permitted outside of Ennis and Shannon. Concerns were also expressed over the accuracy of population data used to inform the national guidelines, given the most recent Census and the shift to remote working ushered in by the Covid pandemic.
At the January meeting, Councillor Kelly said there was “a duty to protect our Council against any type of financial embarrassment”. He said that, in the process of drafting the new development plan, members had “missed a lot of awkward jumps”. He said that seven pages of legal advice had been provided, at the request of councillors.
The Lissycasey man said that restrictions on population allocations “wouldn’t happen in a free country”. “The only place it would happen to be in North Korea,” Councillor Kelly told the meeting. “We’re not not North Korea. We had the guidelines for the first time, because our Dáil deputies obviously were on holidays or asleep.”
The Fianna Fáil member said that decisions made in drafting the new plan could leave the Council open to legal challenges.
“I think we have to be ready and ask the minister to indemnify us,” he said. Councillor Kelly also noted that policy changes in Japan now meant that rural living had been incentivised and suggested that lessons might be learned from that. After the Council Chief Executive was urged to discuss the matter with the minister, Mr Pat Dowling quipped that his recent chats with Darragh O’Brien had been “less than successful”.
The motion was seconded by Cathaoirleach Councillor Tony O’Brien, who gave Councillor Kelly his full support. “I would look for indemnification for Clare County council because of the legal advice,” the chairperson said. “It was thorough and it is concerning for us as a body.”
Support also came from Councillor Johnny Flynn. “We’re looking at a very much a top-down situation where guidelines are suddenly getting the equivalence of directives and we’re obliged to comply with them,” he said.
“When you also you look at the Office of the Planning Regulator and that office’s most recent submission on proposed amendments draft country development plan, it’s taking away all or a significant amount of the powers of elected representatives to represent their constituents in a democratic process.”
Councillor Kelly thanked his colleagues for their support. He noted that a county plan from 1985 had been just 50 pages in length, while the present plan is a foot and half in thickness. “What has happened?” he asked. “Red tape has taken over and common sense is going out the window. Now, what we have at the moment is not the common sense we had in the early years. We have the most expensive version of refusal kit for planning in any part of Ireland.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 065 6864146.