Thursday’s Public Accounts Committee listening to shall be with An Bord Pleanála, the embattled planning physique’s first look on the standing committee since its former chair took early (and sudden) retirement.
However Ms Buckley has already given a flavour of the place she thinks the problems with the board’s authorized woes originate — particularly, the inordinate charges it has been compelled to pay to defend its personal choices within the courts. It’s a problematic opinion.
Final week, the general public had an opportunity to listen to from the brand new chair in her new function for the primary time exterior the environs of an Oireachtas committee chamber.
Ms Buckley, a profession senior civil servant and certified barrister, was appointed by the Authorities to take over from the unexpectedly-retired Dave Walsh final November in a secondment from her function of deputy secretary basic on the Division of Justice.
Rather a lot has modified since she got here in. The board has been beefed up from 4 members to fifteen, and has been granted approval to boost its present employees numbers from roughly 210 to simply below 300.
Individually, a wholesale reboot of the planning system is at the moment earlier than the Oireachtas within the form of a 738-page draft planning invoice.
An Bord Pleanála most likely wants a break simply now from the infinite controversy of the previous 12 months, which noticed each its chair and deputy chair depart for pastures new, the latter with felony expenses hanging over his head.
Scandal apart, nevertheless, the board has skilled a distinct sort of authorized challenge over the previous 4 years.
Its authorized charges have gone by way of the roof, primarily resulting from points with the ramshackle Strategic Housing Growth (SHD) fast-track approval system, first launched in 2017 with a view to kickstarting Eire’s sputtering housing market.
As a substitute, massive swathes of SHDs have been judicially reviewed into oblivion on account of planning board choices having ignored or misinterpreted planning and environmental regulation.
One of many extra controversial facets of the brand new planning invoice is the try to curb perceived ‘frivolous’ planning objections by making it harder (and costly) for a citizen to take a judicial evaluation in opposition to a planning resolution.
Oonagh Buckley: Her speech took a flip for the controversial. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie
All this was likely on Ms Buckley’s thoughts as she addressed the annual convention of the Irish Planning Institute in Clonmel on April 19.
It was a wide-ranging speech, filled with perception, pragmatism and good humour. She sought to make a clear break from the scandals of the previous 12 months by stressing she wouldn’t be discussing them as they predated her.
The entire thing was completely acceptable, that’s to say largely forgettable. Then out of nowhere it took a flip for the controversial.
Ms Buckley introduced up the difficulty of the seemingly infinite collection of judicial critiques dealing with the board, and talked about that fifty% of them have been taken by Dublin regulation agency FP Logue, fronted by environmental and knowledge solicitor Fred Logue.
She professed herself “intrigued” that Mr Logue was additionally set to look earlier than the convention, and mentioned “he’s proper, by the way in which, rewriting the planning code simply means he has one other 20 years of JRs which goes to make his life very profitable”.
She didn’t cease there. She asserted, on the again of her expertise on the Division of Justice, that there are “enterprise fashions” related to taking judicial critiques in opposition to the State.
“Solicitors work out a manner of making a living from taking JRs and so they haven’t got to achieve success. The truth is, they do not even must be majority profitable. They’ll nonetheless make sufficient cash from the state that it makes it price their whereas to do it,” she mentioned, including that if anybody current thought the tip of the SHD framework would imply “all shall be nicely in An Bord Pleanála”, she personally doesn’t consider that to be the case.
Why is that this problematic? Effectively initially, singling out anyone solicitor not to mention Mr Logue (who declared himself “flabbergasted” by the reference final week) feels inappropriate. He might have taken many JRs in opposition to the planning board. He has additionally received nearly all of them.
However greater than that, if an Bord Pleanála is to earn public belief as soon as extra, it makes little sense to publicly comply with the acquainted playbook of claiming that entry to authorized redress is the issue, versus poor decision-making on the a part of the board.
A spokesperson for an Bord Pleanála famous that Ms Buckley’s feedback have been geared toward noting that the board had not adopted to the rising variety of JRs in recent times by recruiting further authorized sources.
They mentioned that Ms Buckley had namechecked Mr Logue as a way to agree along with his publicly-stated view that the brand new planning laws will probably result in elevated litigation.
That could be the case, however to the uninitiated, the speech appeared to intimate that an Bord Pleanála has suffered resulting from frivolous lawsuits. That’s not the case. If it have been, it might have received extra of them.
Extra worrying, nevertheless, is that the board might search to enter its courageous new world by blaming everybody for its annus horribilis — besides itself.