September 23, 2022

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Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told An Bord Pleanála (ABP) to cut off Paul Hyde’s phone and email three days before he stood aside as deputy chairman of the planning body, The Irish Times has learned.

The disclosure casts new light on the controversy that has rocked ABP for months as attention turns to how the body’s chairman, Dave Walsh, responded to claims against Mr Hyde of impropriety and conflicts of interest.

The former deputy chairman resigned in July after three months of controversy over alleged conflicts of interest. ABP acknowledged on Friday Mr Hyde was never formally interviewed by Mr Walsh under specific legal procedures for cases in which the chair believes a board member’s conduct “has been such as to bring the board into disrepute”.

The Minister’s move to cut Mr Hyde’s phone came in a conversation with Mr Walsh late one Friday night in May when the Pleanála chairman said Mr Hyde was still rostered to consider planning cases. This was despite Mr Hyde telling the board of his undeclared conflict of interest in an appeal taken by his sister-in-law.

Mr Walsh was told to immediately cut Mr Hyde’s access to electronic and paper files as well as phone and email, measures that meant he could not consider any cases.

Sister-in-law’s case

The intervention led to Mr Hyde’s access to the computer systems being withdrawn at 9.09pm on the night of Friday, May 6th, hours after media started reporting his involvement in his sister-in-law’s case.

In correspondence issued from Mr O’Brien’s office at 10.49pm that Friday night, Mr Walsh was also told to provide a report on the affair to the Minister by noon the following Monday, preferably after interviewing the deputy chairman.

Mr Hyde stepped back temporarily from his post that Monday, without prejudice to a barrister’s inquiry for the Minister, and resigned two months later. This week, Mr O’Brien sent the report on Mr Hyde by senior counsel Remy Farrell to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Garda.

People familiar with the case believe Mr Farrell’s findings and evidence gathered in his inquiry cannot for legal reasons be used to substantiate any prosecution because investigations are a Garda matter.

There was no comment on Friday from Mr O’Brien on his engagements with Mr Walsh, although the Minister has acknowledged publicly that An Bord Pleanála has been damaged by the Hyde affair.

Mr Hyde, who denies any wrongdoing, also declined to comment.

Questions for Walsh

Fianna Fáil TD Pádraig O’Sullivan said the controversy over Mr Hyde had serious implications for Mr Walsh.

“There’s an awful lot that has gone on under the current chair’s watch and there are serious questions to answer I would imagine,” he said.

“Stepping aside while various investigations, reviews – both internal, external – into the board’s operations continue I think might be in the public interest and, most importantly, as I said, in saving some credibility or confidence in the board itself because at the moment it is undoubtedly damaged.”

Mr Walsh was asked through An Bord Pleanála whether he had anything to say about the TD’s assertion but no comment was forthcoming from him on that matter.

In correspondence with Mr Walsh, the Minister’s office noted measures in the Planning and Development Act 2000 that allow the Pleanála chair to interview any board member.

An Bord Pleanála said a process had been initiated under the relevant part of the Act, with factual material gathered and legal advice sought.

However, An Bord Pleanála said Mr Hyde resigned before the process under the Act was completed. “I can confirm that no interview took place under the [section 110] process,” it said.

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