Lack of transparency over Taoiseach’s planning intervention is cause for alarm

March 18, 2018

The Social Democrats have expressed serious concern that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s meddling in the planning process for a wind farm at the behest of Donald Trump left no trace in official planning files.

The party’s co-leader Catherine Murphy TD said:

“The Taoiseach has now changed his story about what actions he took after he was phoned by the US billionaire in relation to a proposed wind farm near his Doonbeg golf course. It now turns out that Mr Varadkar wrote directly to the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, an agency which he had responsibility for as Minister for Tourism.

“In this correspondence, Mr Varadkar shared Trump’s concerns about the impact of the wind farm and asked Fáilte Ireland to review the planning applications or development plan ‘with a view to making observations’ if it shared any concerns.

“This gesture cannot be dismissed as being in any way benign. It is alarming that a Minister for Tourism would intercede at the behest of a wealthy individual with a state agency which he was directly responsible for at the time.

“According to media reports today, Fáilte Ireland subsequently made a submission to  planners in Clare County Council objecting to the wind farm project. Yet there is no trace in the planning records of Mr Varadkar’s direct intervention with Fáilte Ireland, which has only come out now because of the furore over his remarks in the White House this week.

Deputy Murphy added:

“This kind of behind-the-scenes political intercession reeks of clientelism. Rather than putting the matter to rest, Mr Varadkar’s latest version of events raises more questions that must be answered. Was the Minister’s email to the head of Fáilte Ireland decisive in the agency’s decision to subsequently make a submission objecting to the wind farm?

“Given our history of corruption and political meddling in planning, how can such a high-level intervention be made without any note of it being recorded in the planning files? Does this mean that Ministers can ‘contract out’ their planning interventions to state agencies and leave no trace in the official records?

“This saga highlights the need for much greater transparency in relation to planning. Yet seven years since the Mahon Tribunal’s final report into planning corruption made recommendations in this area, the legislation has still not been enacted.”

ENDS

18 March 2018