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Councillors told to stay out of planning

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ATTENDED MEETINGJunior Minister John Paul Phelan.

Edwin McGreal, Ciara Galvin and Austin Garvin

The practice of discussing planning files in public meetings of Mayo County Council is ‘inappropriate’ according to a government minister.
Minister for State for Local Government John Paul Phelan was speaking at yesterday’s (Monday) monthly meeting of Mayo County Council.
He was responding to criticisms by councillors this week of a letter to councillors from Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy which directed councillors to refrain from discussing planning applications in public meetings.
Such planning applications are discussed at public municipal district meetings in Mayo but that practice appears to be at an end.
“In some parts of the country, there is no discussion of individual planning files. In others, like Mayo, there is discussion of such files. I’d have a great problem with an individual’s application being discussed in a public council meeting. It is inappropriate. The law hasn’t changed, a clarification has been issued,” said Mr Phelan.
However Cllr Michael Kilcoyne (Ind) retorted ‘I can see why another councillor was saying about democracy and how it means nothing to your party’. This referred to a comment by Cllr Frank Durcan (Ind) that ‘democracy has diminished on a daily basis since Fine Gael came into power’.
“This is the law of the land and you’ve been breaching it for years. I’m surprised you don’t know this. We’ve had planning tribunals,” Mr Phelan said, replying to Cllr Kilcoyne.
Mayo County Council Chief Executive Peter Hynes agreed with the minister that the council’s practice of discussing planning files publicly was ‘inappropriate’.
He said the more correct route, which has always been open to and used by councillors, was to engage with the council’s planning staff directly on a one-to-one basis.
“There has always been an open door and a positive engagement and I expect that to continue,” he said.
However, Cllr Gerry Coyle said there merit to councillors being allowed to bring up planning issues at public meetings.
“When it comes to one off local planning, I’ve never spoken on behalf of any developer, I’ve spoken for people who are looking to live in their own area.
“I’m not for people building houses on every side of every road but nor am I for priority being given for views for people who will live in a holiday home one week a year.
“I will always speak for someone who was chased out of an area when they were younger and now want to move back. They are entitled to come back and I am entitled to speak on their behalf.
“It might be said that I don’t have the qualifications. Well I don’t need to know everything about the engine of a car to be able to drive it. I will not give up the right to discuss planning files easily.”
The matter came up for discussion at municipal district meetings last week.
Councillors at April’s Castlebar Municipal District meeting were unanimous in their outrage over the letter from Eoghan Murphy, which stated councillors’ participation in discussions about planning decisions was ‘not appropriate’.
Cllr Kilcoyne said the letter was ‘another attempt to gag elected members’.
The matter was also discussed in detail at the Claremorris Municipal District meeting.
Cllr Patsy O’Brien (FG) was highly critical of his party colleague, Minister Murphy.
“This is a damning situation. We’re here to help every individual. We don’t be in there to question the integrity of each planner. I will personally write to the person that sent out this directive.” he stated. 

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