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Wicklow again

Wicklow Council drops appeal of de Búrca action

Apolitical blast from the past has returned to haunt the much troubled Wicklow County Council and its former county manager, Eddie Sheehy. Former councillor and once prominent Green Party member, Deirdre de Búrca, recently learned that the Council has abandoned a Supreme Court appeal taken by Sheehy after she secured a High Court judgment in her favour in a long running zoning row.

The story dates back to 2004 when de Búrca complained that Fianna Fáil councillor and solicitor, Fachtna Whittle, had breached ethics legislation when he proposed and voted for the rezoning of land near Brittas without disclosing that it was owned by a man represented by his legal practice.

The ethics committee of the Council, including Sheehy and then cathaoirleach, John Byrne, considered that while Whittle had been “unwise to propose the motion he did” he had no “beneficial or pecuniary interest” in the zoning and therefore the complaint by de Búrca was “unjustified”.

The then Green Party councillor challenged the decision to the High Court which decided in her favour with Judge John Hedigan ruling in 2009 that Sheehy and the Council had not dealt with the zoning and potential conflict-of-interest issues at the core of de Búrca’s complaint. He quashed their report and directed the Council to review the matter.

This was not good enough for Sheehy who lodged an appeal, which has been trundling through the justice system ever since, with the Supreme Court. Following his retirement earlier this year, his successors, including acting county manager, Bryan Doyle, have decided to drop the appeal.

To add insult to injury solicitors for the Council sought to impose a ‘gagging order’ on de Búrca as part of what has been described by the Wicklow Times as a “settlement” of the action which the former councillor refused to accept. This involves the Council absorbing the estimated hundreds of thousands of euro in costs accrued in the action, one of a number of legal actions Sheehy left behind when he departed earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly, continues to deflect Dáil questions on the outcome of a number of inquiries into various matters involving planners, councillors and developers in the garden county during Sheehy’s tenure.

These include the circumstances surrounding contracts agreed between the Council and the developers of the 1400 Charlesland residential scheme near Greystones, Sean Mulryan and Sean Dunne and their partnership company Zapi Ltd.

As previously reported in Village a secret contract, providing the then high-flyers with road and other access to the previously landlocked Charlesland site for little or nothing, is under examination by department officials.

The Council has insisted that the contract merely involved an ‘exchange of easements’ of six acres of its land. However, according to the agent who helped to acquire the lands, the road access deal was worth tens of millions to the developers with little or no payment in return to the Council. Before the Charlesland 200 acres site had road access it was worth €22m. Once it had planning permission with road access its value jumped tenfold – to €220m.

Auctioneer Gabriel Dooley has claimed that he was present when Fianna Fáil councillor, Pat Vance, discussed maps of the planned development with Mulryan and Dunne in Dobbins restaurant in Dublin in early 2003 and offered advice on how to circumvent various planning obstacles including the objections of local members to any material contravention of the local area plan to facilitate the ambitious Charlesland scheme.

Vance signed the ‘exchange of easement’ contracts along with Sheehy, the director of services, Tom Murphy and representatives for Mulryan and Dunne.

Bray-based Councillor Vance has also been the subject of an ethics complaint by Dooley over failing to disclose property he acquired in the early 2000s om the town in his annual declaration of interests to the Council. A property in question at Saran Wood was sold earlier this year following publication in Villageabout the ongoing and bitter exchanges between Dooley and Vance, among others. Dooley has not been informed of the outcome of any investigation or if one has taken place.

Mulryan, meanwhile, is involved with international investors and NAMA in a major residential development in Dublin’s docklands and will surely be hoping that the long-awaited departmental inquiry into the Charlesland controversy will not cause any difficulties. He may be interested to know that one of the senior official asked to deal with the various complaints from Wicklow has also recently retired which, no doubt, has delayed the investigation even further.

Frank Connolly