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// Hogan under pressure to re–open six planning probes
FINE GAEL enforcer Phil Hogan is under pressure on two fronts as the party prepares for its first ard fheis since gaining power last year.
Transport Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said the Government would have to consider re–opening six planning investigations, which were set up by John Gormley but shut down by Mr Hogan.
The fallout from the Mahon Tribunal report has led to growing calls for Mr Hogan to reverse this decision, and Mr Varadkar yesterday hinted this could be done, saying it “will have to be considered”.
The investigations focused on allegations of planning irregularities in six local authorities –– Dublin and Cork city councils, as well as county councils in MeatGalway, Cork and Carlow, which is in Mr Hogan’s own constituency.
Mr Gormley set up the inquiries to see if the councils were adhering to development plans or if they were zoning too much land for development.
It was intended that a panel of independent planning experts would be set up to carry out the probe, but Mr Hogan said this approach was “inappropriate” and shut down the review last June, focusing instead on internal inquiries.
The latest controversy also comes as only 20pc of 1.6 million homeowners have paid the €100 household charge.
Fine Gael’s ard fheis, which takes place in Dublin’s Convention Centre on Friday and Saturday, is likely to be targeted by anti–household charge campaigners.
Speaking on ‘Newstalk’ radio yesterday, Mr Varadkar said the planning inquires weren’t in to corruption, but were “in to development plans, local authorities as to whether the councillors made the right or wrong decision”.
But he said it would be the “right thing” to re–open the initial inquiries as proposed by Mr Gormley. “I think that is something that will have to be considered, even if it is just to give people a little bit more faith in the process.
“My understanding with those particular issues was that the last minister for the environment took the view that councillors engaged in overzoning in some of these counties and he would use his powers to stop that or review that.
“Phil Hogan has taken a different view that local authorities have the right to make the decisions and that’s what local democracy is all about.
“It was Fine Gael policy in the past to have a sort of overarching planning board or planning regulator, a little bit like what was recommended in the tribunal to have a second look at rezoning decisions made by councillors, and I think there is a good case for going ahead and doing that.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Hogan said there would be no kneejerk reactions to the Mahon Tribunal report, and said all planning matters would be examined by the Department of the Environment.
However, the ongoing turmoil for Mr Hogan has not dented Fine Gael’s popularity, with a weekend opinion poll showing the senior coalition partner on 34pc, the most popular party in the country by far.
– Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent
Monday March 26 2012