|The email Leo Varadkar sent to Failte Ireland|
There was much consternation in the media over Leo Varadkar's wind farm "gaffe" at the White House where he boasted that he rang the local council and managed to stop a wind farm from being built beside Trump's golf resort in County Clare. There was talk of cronyism and political favors. The facts turned out to be different. Varadkar, then the tourism minister, emailed the tourist board Failte Ireland advising that they make a submission on the development. Failte Ireland make submissions on planning applications all the time, including on wind farms. If one thinks logically about it, how could a tourist board not oppose a wind farm in a tourist region ? The only issue is should they really need prompting from a minister to know that a wind farm might damage tourism in an area.
Compare the outrage from the media about Varadkar's comments to the appeasement when the Government announced they would change the planning rules to facilitate large multinationals by taking rights away from objectors to data centres (see here). Here, the government is not as much interfering in the planning system, but radically changing it to favour developers. There was no outcry from the media. There was no rally call to defend the rights of citizens. Suddenly, the concept of equality took a backseat to expediency and the latest fad of the day.
In January of this year, the Irish Courts determined that An Bord Pleanala (the main planning authority in Ireland) must, in relation to European Union Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) :
- act as a clearing-house or framework coordinator for the development consent process. It is not a role that requires any substantive decisions to be taken regarding the acceptability of a proposed development [Martin Vs An Bord Pleanala].
In other words, once the European Commission decides something needs to be built, the planning authorities in Ireland must approve it. The High Court also ruled that "it is not the function of An Bord Pleanála to review government policy or to consider public submissions in relation to government policy.
Once again, this ruling, which effectively limits the rights of citizens to challenge government and EU decisions, was ignored by the media. This is the kind of environment where cronyism thrives unchallenged and unhindered. Objections to developments based on logic and evidence can be easily dismissed.
An independent and effective planning system is simply not possible with the current system, let alone with the system that is being planned to facilitate data centres. If the rights of citizens were protected in the planning system, then there wouldn't be any problem with cronyism or political favors as the system would have to take account of facts, evidence, transparency and due legal process.