Political amnesia

The Green Party proposed a motion in the Dáil on 21 March to deal with the 'collective amnesia' suffered by politicians before the Planning Tribunal, and calling for all parties to refuse funding from developers. These are extracts from that debate.

Ciarán Cuffe (Green Party):

It is time for the Taoiseach to take action and call to account those in his own party who suffered from amnesia. One need only glance at the website irishcorruption.com to see many of the counties throughout Ireland being named and the individual acts of councillors who are performing rezonings for all the wrong reasons today.

It is not a victimless crime. It is the people of Ireland who suffer, those who have to commute longer distances to work, those who have no option of public transport who must have a car because there is no other option to buy a litre of milk other than to drive several miles down the road, whose children have to be shoved into the car to get to school, and whose workplace is located dozens of miles away from where they live.

All parties must decline funding from developers as the mere acceptance of such moneys is an undue influence on development decisions. We have to put in place measures to ensure that the majority of the increase of value in rezoned land accrues to the State and we have to endorse and legislate for the recommendations of the Kenny report 1974. That report stated that local authorities should have a pre-emptive right to acquire rezoned land at the existing use value, plus 25 per cent. That, in one fell swoop, would remove the influence brought to bear on elected representatives. It would allow local authorities to buy land for development for housing, for local authority housing, voluntary housing associations and affordable housing.

There is an onus on the Taoiseach to act.

John Gormley (Green Party):

I remember a Fianna Fáil backbencher, a fairly decent bloke, standing up and asking me if I was trying to tell him that if somebody put £30,000 on a table in front of me that I would not take it. I said I would not. He rolled his eyes up to heaven and walked off. That says something about the culture of the time. It says that the person who does not take money is the oddball and that it would be quite human to take the money.

I remember the former Minister, Ray Burke, standing in front of the gates of this House telling us he had drawn a line in the sand. I also recall the Tániste, Mary Harney, saying she had full confidence in Ray Burke. Does the Tániste, Deputy Harney, have confidence now in all her Fianna Fáil colleagues? I suspect the reason she is not saying anything is that she too has been part of that culture. I also believe the Taoiseach is not taking action because he hopes that tribunal fatigue has set in and that everyone is tarred with the same brush.

John Gormley quoted at length from an article published in the Sunday Business Post which, he said, revealed " the reason the Tániste, Deputy Mary Harney, does not take action against anybody on the opposite benches". He continued:

(The article) states: "The Tániste proposed or seconded seven motions with the former Deputy Lawlor for section 4 approval or material contravention of the county development plan. The proposed developments included a Section Four directing officials to grant a planning application for a Mr V Cosgrove for a restaurant at Rathcoole service station on the Naas Road. A planning official said at the time that 'the proposed development would endanger public safety by reason of a traffic hazard'".

It further states: "At that stage, a report had identified the Tániste as one of the most active councillors for moving the notorious Section Four and material contravention motions between 1982 and 1983". It further states: "Having proposed ten motions, she occupied joint second spot with two other councillors on the 78 member council".

The article further states: "Deputy Harney was even more active with Section Four planning motions in 1980 and 1981, working closely with the late Seán Walsh. Deputy Harney proposed or seconded 12 Section Fours with the former Fianna Fáil TD".

Is it any wonder the Tániste does not take any action against Fianna Fáil Deputies?

Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin (Sinn Féin):

It is often said that the Irish people are suffering from Tribunal fatigue. Since 1997 the Planning Tribunal, first under Justice Flood and then, up to the present, under Justice Mahon, has slowly exposed the complex web of planning corruption in and around our capital city. But this has been an extremely cumbersome and long drawn out process. The tribunals now seldom make the headlines. It is true that many people have switched off.

(The tribunals) have confirmed the corrupt relationship between developers, property speculators and the establishment political parties in this State.

What has changed? Certainly, the brown envelope culture has been exposed but it has been replaced with the institutionalised brown envelope. This Government's housing policy is driven not by the housing needs of families and individuals but by the profit motive of developers and speculators.

We now find that of 80,000 new homes built last year, only 830 were allocated to local authorities under Part V. That's not much more than one per cent – never mind 20 per cent. Since 2002, over 230,000 homes have been completed for sale on the market, an estimated third of which are second homes or owned by investors. At the best estimate, just over 1,600 have been provided under Part V. That is pathetic. Less than six per cent of all housing now being built is local authority housing. Over 130,000 people are denied decent housing in one of the wealthiest states in Europe.

Dick Roche (Fianna Fáil):

Dick Roche, Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, proposed an amendment to the motion lauding the Government's work in planning, including the National Spatial Strategy and Transport 21, and noting the fact that the Planning Tribunal was underway and its findings awaited.

I am amazed at (Ciarán Cuffe's) brass neck in talking about amnesia. Frankly, I am stunned. I like him as a person, but when it comes to the hypocrisy stakes he takes the gold medal, or rather his friends over there on the Sinn Féin benches do so.

Since the Government was elected in 1997, it has done more to tackle corruption than any Government since the foundation of the State. First, it has established tribunals to investigate planning corruption and payments to politicians. Second, it has improved the transparency of the planning system. Third, it has introduced a new regime of ethics in local government. Fourth, it established the Standards in Public Office Commission. Fifth, it introduced new controls over political donations and finally, it modernised the legislation governing corruption.

In that context, the motion tabled by the Green Party and supported, among others, by Sinn Féin, is cynical and opportunistic in the extreme.

Through a mixture of innuendo, allegation and conspiracy theory, they would have us believe that our planning system is corrupt and inefficient, when by any international standard it is open, transparent and effective.

The bottom line is that the (Planning) Tribunal was established by the Oireachtas to investigate acts of planning corruption and it continues its work in public hearings. The tribunal has a mandate to make recommendations and, at that stage (when it has completed its final report), we will follow those recommendations.

Dick Roche outlined in detail legislation introduced by the Government dealing with planning and local government, which provided, he said, "a robust framework within which legitimate political donations can continue to be received across the political spectrum". He continued:

I do not accept the proposal that all such donations from any particular group must be deemed undesirable per se. That is a nonsense. That discredits politics. In planning for housing provision, we need to ensure high standards are applied and this will be done through quality development plans and local area plans. The Green Party has members on local authorities which make those plans, and the party can make an input there.

The provision of strong support for social and affordable housing remains a key objective of this Government. Record funding is being provided for social and affordable housing programmes this year. With the additional funding secured in the budget, the provision for 2006 will be in excess of €2 billion, more than double such expenditure in 2000.

We are using these resources to good effect. In the past three years, local authorities have started on average 5,100 units, 40 per cent higher than the average number of units commenced between 1994 and 1997. A total of 23,000 new units of social housing will commence between 2006 and 2008.

The output of affordable housing in 2005 was double that between 1994 and 1997. A total of 15,000 units of affordable housing will be delivered between 2006 and 2008. Almost 100,000 households have benefited from various social and affordable housing measures over the past eight years. We are greatly expanding this provision and we expect 50,000 households to benefit from various social and affordable housing measures over the coming three years. Part V will make an increasing contribution to meeting these targets.

The delivery of housing under Part V of the 2000 Act is beginning to increase significantly. At the end of 2005, almost 1,400 units had been delivered during the year, 2,500 were under construction and a further 3,500 were proposed under agreements with developers.

I expect 6,000 social and affordable units will be delivered under Part V between 2005 and 2007.p