The Planning and Development and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill 2022, is being rushed through the Oireachtas without proper scrutiny.
The Bill hands unchecked powers to the Minister for Housing and complete discretion in determining the Board member appointment process. It also provides no safeguards and no provisions for Oireachtas oversight. In fact it specifically removes existing safeguards on Ministerial powers.
The Bill grants the Minister unrestricted power and carte blanche to create a procedure of his or her choosing for appointing ordinary Board members to An Bord Pleanála and then also the power to ultimately make the appointments.
It would also allow the Minister to unilaterally change the size and configuration of the board and make temporary appointments, including of the chairperson, without those people going through an open, transparent, competitive selection process.
The Bill removes all safeguards, Oireachtas oversight, and checks and balances on these powers, essentially giving the Minister the power to stack the Board with his or her appointees, including ones that have not gone through a rigorous open recruitment process.
The Government claims this Bill is urgently needed to fill vacancies on the Board, and to address the growing backlog of cases.
However, the Minister already has powers under the existing system to fill those vacancies - Minister Darragh O’Brien has just failed to do it.
The Bill will curtail the right to challenge unlawful planning decisions in court, local communities could lose access to the fundamental checks and balances intended to protect the environment.
The Bill also proposes changes to the definition of the foreshore, which extends up to the 12 nautical mile limit of Ireland’s territorial waters. The new definition is designed to ensure oversight of surveys in the foreshore area which we welcome.
However, there are significant concerns that the proposed changes may exclude access for various other marine users, including fishers and the public.