00:00 Saturday 07 July 2012  Written by Here & There By Archon

Honourable people one and all in County Hall

HERE’S a conundrum that might tickle your fancy.

According to the lads and lassies inhabiting the tall building on the Straight Road, there never was and there never will be any sort of hanky panky concerning planning matters in County Hall. Every councillor that passes through its portals has been (and is) above board, scrupulous, and with bona fides that are available for inspection day and night.

On the other hand, to judge by what the councillors think of An Taisce – the crowd that banjaxed the Da’s plan for a hotel with eight thousand rooms in West Cork - that plummy lot are full of bunkum, boloney, cant, eyewash and the proverbial bulls..t.

And, in case you don’t know, our councillors now have every right to puff out their chests. They’re in the clear. Not a smudge of anything suggesting a planning aberration tarnishes the lustre of their honourable reputations.

Because, you see, mini-minister Jan O’Sullivan’s investigation into alleged corruption on seven councils (including Cork) concluded that councillors had nothing to be ashamed of (mirabile dictu). Every man Jack was (and is) above board, and as good as gold.

No one responsible

Indeed, as soon as the results of her report became public, Cork County Council burst into an excited affirmation of the moral soundness of its planning system. County Hall, they said, had one of the most open and transparent processes in the country.

Although the Mahon tribunal identified planning corruption in every aspect of Irish public life, Ms O’Sullivan’s report into alleged irregularities was more reassuring. The message she conveyed was that the politicos on Cork County Council and elsewhere had glided through the doo-dah of recent years with the aplomb and purity of Saint Bernadette herself. They were all totally above reproach.

But, if that’s the happy situation, the punter might well ask who was ultimately responsible for the 2,800 ghost estates, half-built shops, offices and hotels blighting the countryside? Who gave the go-ahead?

Well, no one really! What happened … kinda just happened. The politicos did not create the mess. According to the mini-minister, it was caused by – wait for it – ‘maladministration.’

Yes, ‘maladministration,’ the dreaded monster that once freely roamed the highways and byways of Ireland, gobbling up land – even an auld flood plain would do – to build houses, flats, offices, supermarkets, hotels and whatever you’re having yourself Mrs McAssey.

In Coalition-speak, ‘maladministration’ is a sort of political nonsense-word that can mean anything, from inadequate record keeping to inadequate consultation, or inconsistent application of the rules. It’s tenuously linked to rezoning, development, green fields, councillors, votes, and the making of lots and lots of money. Of course, ‘maladministration’ has absolutely nothing to do with planning corruption, which is something else entirely.

An Taisce not happy

Now, thanks to Ms O’Sullivan, Dame Enda, Gilmore and pals, ‘maladministration’ will be rooted out and the monster’s head chopped off. We will never again experience its horrors. How do we know that?

Well, Ms O’Sullivan announced that she will appoint a special ‘person’ to keep tabs on the nation’s local authorities and their planning practices. Yes, all 34 local authorities!

What’s more, this super-human ‘maladministration’ fighter will oversee the improvements that Ms Sullivan intends to make to the planning procedure, such as the recommendation prohibiting landowners or developers from drafting local area plans!

Needless to say, An Taisce wasn’t happy because O’Sullivan’s review ignored the Mahon Tribunal’s call for the establishment of an independent planning regulator.

The Green Party (or what’s left of it) couldn’t quite take in the self-assured brazenness of it all. A spokesperson croaked that it beggared belief that the seven councils, cited as the worst in Ireland, came out ‘squeaky-clean.’

It was nothing but ‘a classic cover-up,’ they groaned. ‘The public would never find out what the real stories were because Fine Gael and Labour were in control of both central and local government”.

The party (or what’s left of it) also claimed that the methodology by which the Department of the Environment came to the conclusion that there was no abuse of office was that officials from the Department visited senior officials in the councils for a chat, and asked them a list of questions. That was the sum total of the inquiry.

It all sounded as if the Greenies had a touch of the blah-de-blahs and, in Coalition eyes, the carping probably amounted to nothing more than resentment at their having no input into local authority affairs.

Indeed, when we put Green objections to one side, it becomes apparent that there never was (and there never will be) a corruption outbreak on Cork County Council, or on any other local authority for that matter.

We can thank the Coalition for that. In response, the plain people of Ireland should express their gratitude to Dame Enda, Gilmore, the rest of the lads, and particularly to Ms O’Sullivan and her hard-working Department team for their deep and comprehensive examination of planning controversies, alleged or otherwise.

Fred Forsey’s wife

At the same time we know that if the unlikely ever happened and a teensy weensy bit of planning shenanigans surfaced in Cork, we shouldn’t be too worried. Although Ms O’Sullivan sees no need to put anything of substance in place that would protect the public, we can always rely on a disgruntled wife to blow the whistle.

Like, for instance, Cllr Fred Forsey Jnr’s wife, whose well-known Fine Gael husband was caught with his pants down (sorry, that should read for ‘receiving €80,000 in corrupt payments from a property speculator).

So, in the event of something murky ever taking place on Cork County Council, we’re sure an angry missus will pop up, shop the straying politico and, hey presto, as in Waterford (unintentionally) defend the integrity of the planning system.

The trial judge praised Mrs Forsey for her public-spiritness and, indeed, so should mini-minister O’Sullivan and Cork County Council because, as matters stand, there are precious few other ways of bringing bent councillors to book.

For years Dame Enda and chums knew about the allegation of corruption surrounding Forsey, but chose to do nothing about it. As with many wicked bishops, they simply brushed the complaint under the carpet and hoped for the best.

Perhaps it all goes to show that when it comes to confirming the good behaviour of politicians, as Ms O’Sullivan did, the investigator should bear in mind the wisdom of Groucho Marx: ‘These are my principles,’ he said, ‘and if you don’t like them…well, I have others.’ So too have the councilors – and the Coalition.

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