April 4: Heffernan queries lack of response to council motion on planning

Independent Senator James Heffernan has called for an independent investigation into two planning matters dealt with by Limerick County Council. While precluded from naming names, he said Limerick County Council has received no response at all from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

Independent Senator James Heffernan has called for an independent investigation into two planning matters dealt with by Limerick County Council. While precluded from naming names, he said Limerick County Council has received no response at all from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

“It is not acceptable, when councils pass motions and they are forwarded to the relevant Ministers, that no official response comes back to them,” he said.

“It shows a disregard for the work of elected representatives, in particular county councillors, if the Minister in charge is going to ignore them.”

“To be clear from the outset, the applicant himself does not dispute the fact that he was refused a planning application; that is fine and is accepted,” he said.

“What is in question here is the manner and the method whereby that application was allowed to proceed. There is a perception that there was maladministration on the part of Limerick County Council when it was dealing with the applicant, in that he was left to go too far along a stage with the application while the planners seemed to be of a view that it was never going to be approved in the end.”

Senator Heffernan said the applicant’s argument is that, under the guidelines as set out by the former Minister Dick Roche, if something was going to affect the outcome of a planning decision, the applicant should be made aware of such a problem at the pre-planning stage.

This matter has been brought to the attention of the Office of the Ombudsman, he said.

“I am not sure if it was properly picked up that the guidelines as set out in 2007 by the former Minister do not seem to have been followed.

“All the members of Limerick County Council, of all parties, to my knowledge, are in agreement that an independent investigation should take place because they feel there was certainly maladministration when it came to these particular applications.

“I would like to hear the response from the Department to the resolution that was unanimously passed by Limerick County Council back in November.”

In response, Minister of State Ann Phelan said under section 255 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, the responsible minister has certain investigatory powers in regard to the review of the performance by planning authorities of their functions under the Act.

These powers are, however, restricted to the review of the organisation and of the systems and procedures used by planning authorities in relation to their functions. They do not extend to the review of individual planning applications.

“I understand that the matter raised relates to a planning applicant who has complained about the handling of two planning applications by Limerick County Council in relation in particular to pre-application consultations entered into by the person concerned with the council,” she said.

“I further understand that the person in question complained about the council’s handling of his planning applications to the previous Ombudsman, who did not find any maladministration by the council in this matter, and that this decision was upheld on appeal.

“I also understand that the Ombudsman, as an exceptional matter, granted a further review of the case, following which the previous finding was upheld.

“The person subsequently made a further complaint to the current Ombudsman who found that while there were some failings on behalf of the council in this case, these did not constitute significant maladministration.”

Daly queries landing of two military aircraft at Shannon

On February 28, Defence Forces personnel were deployed to Shannon Airport following an emergency landing of a US military aircraft, Defence Minister Simon Coveney told the Dáil.

He said an emergency landing of a US military aircraft also took place on 6 March 2015. On this occasion, Defence Forces personnel were already deployed to Shannon Airport for another aircraft at the time.

Replying to questions from Dublin North Independent Deputy Clare Daly, the Minister said notwithstanding the emergency nature of both landings, the deployment of the Defence Forces in support of An Garda Síochána was in accordance with normal procedures and there was no particular reason for him to discuss these matters with ministerial colleagues.

“However, I am satisfied that there is ongoing and close liaison between An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces and between my Department and those of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Justice and Equality regarding security matters generally, including in respect of the Defence Forces’ aid to the civil power (ATCP) roles,” he said.

However, Deputy Daly said that on 28 February, a US military EC-130H aircraft, described as an airborne tactical weapons system which uses a heavily modified version of the C-130 Hercules airframe and the primary function of which is electronic warfare, suppression of enemy air defences and offensive counter-information, landed at Shannon.

“How could such an aircraft not be in breach of our neutrality?” she asked. “When we posed questions to one of the four Departments responsible for this issue, having to some extent been kicked around in respect of it, we were initially informed that a different type of aircraft had sought permission to land ten days previously. On 28 February, the US military sought permission to land a normal Hercules plane but suddenly a so-called emergency landing was required and an EC-130H, an entirely different aircraft, landed at Shannon Airport. As commander-in-chief, as it were, of the armed forces, how can the Minister for Defence be of the view that it is acceptable for Defence Forces personnel to be called out to deal with such a scenario?”

In reply Minister Coveney said he did not have the details of the aircraft that landed at the airport in his possession. “What I do have in my possession is that which I have already outlined, namely, the dates on which emergency landings were sought and granted,” he said. “Outside of that, I do not have with me any further details I can supply today.”