Planning rule is a 'gagging order' - Lawlor
A new rule forbidding councillors from discussion planning applications at public meetings, was described as 'a gross insult to every councillor in every chamber in the country' by Wexford Labour man George Lawlor.
Referring to a directive that came out from the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy on March 9, he said it put a' gagging order' on any discussions of planning matters at Council meetings in the interest of due process and not exerting undue pressure on the planning authority.
'I think it's a gross and utter insult to every councillor in every chamber in the county. It is banning discussions in an open forum in the council chamber', said Cllr. Lawlor.
Ironically, the circular was sent out just before An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar admitted in front of the media during a meeting in the White House with American President Donald Trump to making a phone call while he was Minister for Tourism, in relation to a wind farm planning application in Doonbeg, County Clare where the President owns a golf resort, he said.
'A Minister can intervene in a planning application but councillors discussing concern about a planning matter in front of the press is not allowed', said Cllr. Lawlor.
Director of Services Tony Larkin confirmed that the circular arrived at the Council the previous week but said it wouldn't make much difference to Wexford County Council.
'In effect, the measures they have asked us to introduce are the measures that have been standard practice in the county council and four district councils in Wexford.'
'It is not our practice to discuss live planning applications in the chamber. My reaction to the circular was there is no change needed in Wexford. We have had a longstanding practice, going back decades of not discussing live planning applications in the chamber. It's obviously a problem in other councils but not this council.'
'The Minister seems to be tarring everyone with the same brush, The notion that councillors should be told to ask no questions is something that should be responded to', commented Cllr. Lawlor.
Cllr. Tony Dempsey said if a planning application is live there is no discussion of it in the Wexford chamber but planning policy is discussed.
Cllr. Lisa McDonald said she thought the Minister was stepping out of his own remit in writing that letter.'I don't think he has executive powers to send such a letter', she told councillors.