An Bord Pleanála operating without conflict of interest register despite governance turmoil

An Bord Pleanála (ABP) hasn’t had a key policy for conflicts of interest for at least seven weeks – despite all the controversies the authority has been mired in for the last year.

Board members haven’t been required to declare their relevant interests in a file restrictions list. This means that board members are potentially being allocated case files where they have a conflict of interest, such as connections with previous employers or where developments are proposed in their own neighbourhoods.

The importance of the list was outlined in a damaging internal ABP report The Ditch published in full earlier this year.

“Board members have nominated locations or other connections in an in-house exclusions/restrictions list which is used as a general guide for administrative staff in random file allocation to members,” according to the October 2022 internal report.

'How can the board have a procedure that allocates a file without this in place?'

Housing minister Darragh O’Brien in January this year appointed Oonagh Buckley as An Bord Pleanála chairperson following a period of turmoil at the state planning body.

In February she told a joint Oireachtas committee on housing that she wants to “ensure that the board cannot be held up by having potential conflicts of interest damage their reputation in the future”.

The new-look ABP however hasn’t had a file restrictions list, which requires board members to declare conflicts of interest, in place for at least seven weeks. ABP haven't confirmed for how long this has been the case.

ABP board members have, in the past, struggled with adhering to their restricted lists.

Last year The Ditch revealed that several board members had ignored the internal restrictions list and voted on developments where they had conflicts of interest.

In one case ex-deputy chairperson Paul Hyde approved planning permission for a development at a Dublin 4 property owned by his brother, while other board members voted on developments located less than 100 metres from where they lived.

In July 2022 The Ditch reported that ABP’s current deputy chairperson Chris McGarry voted on a development at the Hilton Hotel in Kilmainham, the neighbourhood where he lives, despite restricting himself from voting on all appeals in that area.

The following month he changed his entry on the file restrictions list so that he only had to recuse himself if an appeal concerned a development on the Dublin 8 road where his home is located.

On 3 April The Ditch requested a copy of the current file restrictions list from ABP. It wasn’t until more than five weeks later, on 12 May, that a spokesperson for the board told The Ditch that “due to the recent addition of a further six new board members the relevant list has not yet been finalised”.

When asked for the draft version of the list a spokesperson for ABP confirmed last Friday that they “do not have a current draft as the gathering of this information is currently ongoing”.

A legal source familiar with operations at ABP speaking to The Ditch asked, “How can the board have a procedure that allocates a file without this in place?”

An Bord Pleanála did not respond when asked how long it had been operating without a file restrictions list.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors