After the drama of the Mahon Reports conclusions about individuals, attention is starting to turn to its recommendations about how to fight corruption in our political system. Chapter 18 of the Report contains recommendations on 8 separate areas: planning; conflicts of interest; political finance; lobbying; bribery; corruption in office; money laundering; asset confiscation; as well as other miscellaneous measures.
Local government and planning are two issues I’ve always been passionate about. Residents across Dublin 15 have suffered as a result of poorly thought out planning decisions, passed by Fingal County Council. As such, I’m particularly interested in some of the recommendations proposed to address conflicts of interests amongst county councillors during the planning process.
The Mahon Report identifies conflict of interest as when an individual who can exercise public power may potentially benefit from the way that power is exercised. The Report was critical of a current member of Fingal County Council, Cllr Anne Devitt, for voting on a planning matter when she had been paid for professional services by one of the parties involved, describing it as “entirely inappropriate” (Chapter 7 – p 1934).
The Report recommends that those seeking to get planning permission for their land should indicate if they have made a donation of more than €55 to any councillor on the local authority which will be deciding on their planning application. Further, where a councillor makes either an oral or written intervention about a particular planning request, this should be noted on the file of that planning application.
The Report also states that councillors should have to declare on an ad hoc basis, any interest that might be seen to influence them in the conduct of their public duties.
In my view, it is simply not acceptable that councillors should be able to vote on decisions when they themselves have gained, or have the potential to gain, from that decision. All the handwringing of politicians and commentators will mean nothing if the lessons from the tribunal process are not learnt.
The Government have an obligation to go through the 231 pages of the ‘Recommendations’ chapter of the Mahon Report, and identify how they plan to respond to each one. And where they decide to take no action, they need to give a reason justifying this.