By Frank Connolly
Environment minister, Alan Kelly, has told the Dáil that he is still grappling with the series of controversies that have beset Wicklow County Council in recent years which threaten to expose deeply questionable relations between elected officials and councillors and one-time masters of the universe, Sean Mulryan and Sean Dunne.
Village understands that there have been ructions in the Department over recent weeks since a number of Sinn Féin deputies, including Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald, spoke on a parliamentary motion calling for the establishment of an Independent Planning Regulator, as recommended in the long-since-shelved Mahon tribunal report.
Brian Stanley TD for Laois Offaly appears to have caused the greatest upset for senior department and council officials with his comments about the extraordinary transfer of lands by the council to the two developers in 2003 and 2004 as reported extensively in Village over recent months.
Village has reported that the lands worth some €20m were given in what was termed an “exchange of easements” by the council and allowed the developers lucrative road access to the 1,400 home residential complex they were building at Charlesland near Greystones. It is unclear what the council received in this exchange but the valuable lands were disposed of without any vote by elected councillors as is the normal, legal requirement.
Stanley said: “A large section of that land, six acres, was handed over to the developer for €10 and it is claimed that it was a deed of grant of easement, a most unusual legal instrument, to be used in the transfer of land from a local authority. I have a copy of the deed of grant of easement, which makes interesting reading. Even though it was never brought before the members of the local authority in the chamber, it has a separate folio. It is sold as a fee simple – freehold”.
He went on to describe how a series of allegations by Wicklow auctioneer, Gabriel Dooley, and local councillors had been sent to the minister, including in one file which mysteriously disappeared from his desk in the Custom House last September, but to date there had been no proper investigation by his department.
“These centre on the acquisition of lands, re-zonings and road access for none other than Mr Sean Dunne and Mr Sean Mulryan, around the proposed development at Charlesland near Greystones”, Stanley said.
“There are also claims of improper contact between developers and key members of planning committees and local authority officials. The subsequent re-zoning of lands in question brought huge dividends for the Ballymore property group which…had distressed loans of €2.75bn from AIB, Anglo Irish Bank and other financial institutions”.
Stanley referred to other bizarre events surrounding former county manager, Eddie Sheehy, in his dealings with councillors critical of his actions over the years as “akin to what took place in Mississipi under Governor Huey Long”.
But it is his reference to Mulryan and Dunne in particular that has caused such sensitivity given the former’s attempts to get out of the clutches of NAMA, with its assistance, and the latter’s on-going difficulties in trying to keep his assets out of reach of various agencies and creditors, from his US refuge.
In his response to the Sinn Féin contributions during the two-day debate, Kelly said:
“Some deputies referred to issues concerning Wicklow County Council. As I am considering these issues, it would be inappropriate for me to make any further comment until such time as every issue has been considered”.
Meanwhile, the final report by MacCabe Durney Barnes Consultants as part of the independent review of planning in Carlow, Cork, Galway and Meath county councils and Cork and Dublin city councils is, according to the department, “still awaited and Minister Kelly subsequently intends to publish it having considered its contents”. •
Gabriel Dooley has made a complaint to the Ethics Registrar of Wicklow County Council concerning the apparent failure of Wicklow Fianna Fáil councillor, Pat Vance, to declare his interest in a property in Bray.
According to documents submitted to the Registry of Deeds on August 26th 2004 Vance with his wife, Mary, and son, Peter, raised a mortgage on the property at 15 Saran Wood, Killarney Road, Bray. A year to the day previously, in August 2003, the property was registered in the name of Peter Vance.
The house was built by McInerney’s on a site under Bray Head in the early 2000s. Pat Vance and his wife own another investment property built by McInerney’s at Briar Wood, Bray.
The Council confirmed that Dooley’s complaint had been received and will be investigated.
“Wicklow County Council confirms that the Ethics Registrar received a complaint in relation to Cllr Pat Vance on the 28th May 2015. This complaint will be investigated in accordance with the process outlined in Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended”, a spokesperson told Village.
Councillor Vance told Village that the house belongs to his son and he had no reason to include it in his Declaration of Interests for Wicklow County Council at any time between 2004 and 2014. •