It’s Democracy…..

Fingal County Council planners (the executive) don’t like democracy and I don’t say this lightly. I say it after 20 years of experience. Well, maybe to be more accurate in terms of the Fingal executive (as against the planning appeals Board), I should say 12 years, because it started back in 2010.

I won’t repeat that time again, because it’s well documented in my blogs; Power and Propaganda, which tell that part of our story. I’ll cut to after Christmas last year (2021) when two of our local councillors told us that they were shocked to see that the executive of Fingal County Council, (AnnMarie Farrelly and the Director of Planning, her chief advisor Matthew McAleese), had put down a recommendation to de-zone our land. (The bit we had left after the last fun and games at the Board with the Paul Hyde/Philip Jones/Terry Prendergast special- An Bord Pleanála are in another league when it comes to democracy and transparency). The councillors had kindly waited until after Christmas so as not to spoil it for us. We were baffled and angry, but not surprised.

Some of the attendees at meeting 1st November, 2017

After An Bord Pleanála (appeals board) overturned our grant of planning in 2017, all the local councillors and TDs met. The outcome of the meeting was to ask the executive in Fingal to support a variation. (We even took a photo on the day!). The councillors had voted on the zoning you see. It is their role in the planning system; local democracy at work. We elect them and therefore they (unlike others) are accountable. They were shocked when the planning appeals Board made their strange decision and overturned the grant of permission from Fingal County Council, for Holmpatrick Cove.

To put things in context, at this stage, local councillors had already voted on the zoning of our land FOUR times- 2001, 2010, 2011 and 2016 – These had been lengthy, detailed debates. There was an awful lot of misinformation pedalled about. But the local councillors knew their town and their area. They backed our plans for our land. They didn’t buy the propaganda coming from some executive planners.

In a meeting that followed with me and Michael, AnnMarie Farrelly, (as sympathetic as she appeared to be), said she couldn’t do the variation for technical reasons. She said she could only “look at it in the context of the next development plan process”. We respectfully told her (and planner Peter Byrne) we wouldn’t be around in five years. Well, as it turned out, we weren’t quite right. We were ravaged. But we were still standing. It was a tough five years to put it mildly.

Fast forward five years and back to the “context of the next development plan”. We were sold a bit of a pup by the executive in 2017. The executive ignored the councillors support for developing that land and decided instead to de-zone it. So now we were faced with yet another vote with many new councillors who wouldn’t be familiar with what had gone before. This vote would be number FIVE. It wasn’t easy. There was the same propaganda coming from the executive – Let me give you an example – those of us living in Skerries don’t see the Rush Road as rural Fingal. It’s residential and attached to the town. I should know. I grew up on the Rush Road. It’s also much closer to the centre of town than many of the developments to the north of Skerries, (Barnageera Cove, Hamilton Hill). But you see AnnMarie and Matthew say it’s remote and that the road is inadequate. (They’re talking about the Regional road with the Dublin bus route by the way). They say the land isn’t serviced. (That means paths, transport, mains water, electricity and gas to you and I – which it has). They say it is coastal. Yes, it’s coastal but can I tell you the housing is as far away from the coast as Supervalue is in Church Street (if not further). And they have started to bring back the birds on the islands. Honestly most of the town of Skerries is closer to Shenick island than that land. It’s not as if we haven’t provided them with evidence based studies over the years. But why spoil a good conspiracy. Especially when you are in control of the information.

That last vote was a pain. That of course is an understatement. We’d been through it too many times before. History repeating itself again. Same forces at play. I have a theory, gained from my years at the frontline, that the executive are defending the indefensible; the planning history and especially that Board decision. The decision (and not only that one) that should be bang smack in the middle of all three of the Inquiries going on (well maybe not the third one, the planning regulator OPR, because of the conflict; his parents live across the road from the entrance). The executive has obviously decided that to not defend that Board decision would “open up an appalling vista”.

We won that vote, the FIFTH one. It was close. It was thanks to our local councillors who fought hard……..again. Over the years I can only thank them all (and I’m talking the retired and new local councillors) for their support for us. They have had to work against a system that is doing the same thing over and over again, in the hope that eventually they will get a different result. (what is that a definition of?). Or maybe they are just hard losers. They lost the vote in March. The FIFTH time the councillors voted. But wait for it. They are back again. Take SIX. They want another vote in September. To be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be sure, to be (effing) sure. AnnMarie and Matthew now recommend that the glamping and the housing is de-zoned again. I read the report. It’s very compelling. Except it’s not. It is the same propaganda. Same as last March. Same as the 2010/2011 meeting when senior planner, Rachael Kenny, (Director of Planning in An Bord Pleanála since 2015) led the charge. Political gaslighting, to use the modern term.

And I’m sorry if you think my tone is disrespectful. It’s way past the time to be respectful. We’ve tried that. It doesn’t work. Michael and I jokingly say, we have been long cured from our Stockholm Syndrome. This is people’s lives and livelihoods these public servants are dealing with. Oddly I wouldn’t even wish the consequences on them or their families.

If you notice I don’t include the 2016 vote. Paul Reid was CEO at that time and he stopped the attempted propaganda at that meeting. You see, he didn’t come from the system. He actually took the time to visit the site with us and discuss our plans. I remember in that council meeting he said “to de-zone that land would be a retrograde step”. Not long after that I met him at an event to celebrate Skerries winning the Tidy Town’s. He shook my hand told me to “keep up the good work”.

So finally, my question is, WHO are these planning executives serving? Why will they not accept the democratic vote? There was a lovely comment made the other day that resonated with me. (one of the numerous positive comments in reaction to the article about our proposal in the Sunday Independent); “The planners are servants of democracy. Not its masters”. Can somebody please send that memo to Fingal Co Co executive? (Oh and An Bord Pleanála while you are at it).

I hoped I would never have to write about planning again. I am so sick of it all, but as somebody said we are fighting for our lives. So, this time I am asking anyone, especially anyone from Skerries and the surrounding area, if you support what we are trying to do and don’t agree with the actions of the executive, could you send them a message? Could you please mail AnnMarie and Matthew in Fingal Executive.  I will include their contact details below.

I will also include Fingal councillors’ emails. If you are of a mind in the next short while and if you have a spare moment, if you could let them know that you support our proposals we would appreciate it. (The councillors outside of Skerries rely on the executive to inform them and they have the same vote as the local councillors).   

I won’t include our local councillors’ emails (as they know the full story) I would especially like to mention Karen Power and  Seána O’Rodaigh, who Michael and I are so grateful to for their kindness and support and for proposing and seconding our motion last March. Nor will I include Tom O’Leary, Tony Murphy and Grainne Maguire, who have always supported us, both outside and in the chamber of Fingal Co Co. Michael and I really appreciate this too.

Fingal Executive

CEO AnnMarie Farrelly  annmarie.farrelly@fingal.ie

Matthew MacAleese.  matthew.mcaleese@fingal.ie

Fingal Councillors (excluding local -Skerries/Balbriggan)

Howard.mahony@cllrs.fingal.ie cathal.boland@cllrs.fingal.ie

Daniel.whooley@cllrs.fingal.ie pamela.conroy@cllrs.fingal.ie

Ted.leddy@cllrs.fingal.ie                                            Siobhan.shovlin@cllrs.fingal.ie

Natalie.treacy@cllrs.fingal.ie                                     john.walsh@cllrs.fingal.ie

Jimmy.guerin@cllrs.fingal.ie                                      David.healy@cllrs.fingal.ie

Joan.hopkins@cllrs.fingal.ie                                       Anthony.lavin@cllrs.fingal.ie

Brian.mcdonagh@cllrs.fingal.ie                                 Eoghan.obrien@cllrs.fingal.ie

Aoibhinn.tormey@cllrs.fingal.ie joe.newman@cllrs.fingal.ie

Tom.kitt@cllrs.fingal.ie tania.doyle@cllrs.fingal.ie

John.burthaell@cllrs.fingal.ie breda.hanaphy@cllrs.fingal.ie

Mary.mccamley@cllrs.fingal.ie                                  jk.onwumereh@cllrs.fingal.ie

Punam.rane@cllrs.fingal.ie Darragh.butler@cllrs.fingal.ie

Ian.carey@cllrs.fingal.ie                                             ann.graves@cllrs.fingal.ie

James.humphreys@cllrs.fingal.ie                               brigid.manton@cllrs.fingal.ie

Dean.mulligan@cllrs.fingal.ie                                     Kieran.dennison@cllrs.fingal.ie

Angela.donnelly@cllrs.fingal.ie                                  brian.dennehy@cllrs.fingal.ie

Adrian.henchy@cllrs.fingal.ie                                    paul.mulville@cllrs.fingal.ie

Robert.odonoghue@cllrs.fingal.ie

Propaganda

Every five years the local council votes on a new plan for their area. It is called the County Development Plan.  There is approximately a two year lead up to this process which is known as the Draft Development Plan. At the end of the two year period the local councillors get to vote in the plan that will shape their area over the next 5 years. The public participate in this process by making proposals to their local council and commenting on submissions made by third parties. The executive planners in the council are the administrators of this democratic process.

Skerries Harbour

In 2010 we made our submission to the Draft Development Plan process for Holmpatrick Cove. In truth we had made a submission in 2009 but it was returned because it was sent in at the wrong stage of the Development Plan process. (It was site-specific and at that stage they were dealing with strategic plans). The 2009 initial proposal was ambitious. A bit too ambitious as we were talking about Heritage Centres and Bird-Watching platforms and I think even an Aquarium!).  We had been to Lahinch, you see, earlier that year. That’s where the idea for Holmpatrick Cove evolved. They had it all there: hotel, swimming pool, aquarium, Heritage Centre down the road. So, we thought well, why not use our site in Skerries? We knew we had a great site. Strange decisions had been made in the Planning Board around our entrance. We knew they were based on vexatious claims so we could deal with that in the future.

The council had supported our plans for Holmpatrick Cove. By this I mean the executive planners who we went to in the first instance. They were going to propose it themselves in their January 2010 Manager’s Report. But that never happened; there was the famous unexplained U-turn. The local councillors did support our plans so, encouraged by them, we put our submission into the Draft Development Plan in May, 2010. At this point the plan was for a hotel, swimming pool, 24 contemporary houses on the residential lands, a park, training spaces and a coastal walkway- Holmpatrick Cove.

The first commentary on our proposal (Manager’s Report) that came out of the council was in September 2010. Another “Screening Report” followed which went on public display.  The executive had changed their tune, to put it mildly.  Holmpatrick Cove was now “highly undesirable” It was rural, distant, it had no public transport, highly sensitive, highly visible, it would damage the birds on island, it would damage air quality and climate. The report implied that the developers couldn’t be trusted, the entrance was sub-standard, there were plenty of hotels in the area, there was already public paths on the land. If what was said was true, Holmpatrick Cove would have been scandalous. But it wasn’t true. Our proposal was unrecognizable. Only possibly a municipal dump could have elicited such strong objection from the executive planners. The report was aimed at the 24 councillors who were to vote on the proposal in March 2011.

In January of 2011 we had our opportunity to respond to these reports. It was a stage in the Draft Plan that also allowed the public to make their views known. We made our submission dealing with the ‘mis-information’ in the Manager’s and Screening Reports. We included our Court Judgment and Order regarding the entrance and past refusals.  All of the submissions made during that stage were accessible on the Council’s public web-site. Except ours. Our submission was redacted/obliterated. They mustn’t have liked it.

The council executives got to reply to the January submissions in their February Manager’s Report.  “There were a large number of submissions received both in support and opposing Amendments 5.11 and 5.12 (collectively addressed as Holmpatrick).” That’s what they said, the Executive in Fingal Co Co. They were referring to Holmpatrick Cove. The truth is there were 19 against Holmpatrick Cove (including a round robin) and 125 in support (including all of the main sports clubs and societies in the town). The bias shown in the opening statement continued throughout the report.  Previous errors we had drawn their attention to were repeated. Holmpatrick Cove was stilll “highly undesirable” for the same five reasons. (they mustn’t have read the Court Judgment because they still mentioned the substandard access and previous refusals). They must have hidden our reply very well because it was completely ignored. It was now February 2011 and a month before the elected councillors would get to vote on the new County Development Plan

The final Development Plan meeting took place on March 23rd 2011. The councillors came armed with the February 2011 Manager’s Report (they were saving on printing). All 24 councillors were at the meeting and twenty of them spoke. Many of the councillors had bought into it the Manager’s Reports. Why wouldn’t they? There was a motion to take Holmpatrick Cove out of the County Development Plan. The councillor remarked at the meeting in March that she “was struck by the Manager’s lengthy and detailed reply. I haven’t seen such an emphatic reply to an objective”. So, she urged her fellow councillors to support her motion to remove Holmpatrick Cove from the Development Plan.

The executive (Gilbert Power and Rachael Kenny) did their best to defend their reports. Some points were obviously troublesome so there was a bit of clarification done only after the councillors’ debate had concluded. Apparently there were some facts in the Manager’s Reports that they couldn’t defend any more…there is a 33 bus that runs past the site….we haven’t I think anywhere in the report indicated numbers of submissions for or against….In relation to the access onto the road …there were a number of Board Pleanala refusals….we gave the factual panning history…the proposer has won a high court case…and that’s quite correct…and it should be said on the record. There seems to be a suggestion that the proposer has reneged on these lands, in ceding these lands….we were just simply answering the obvious question -were the lands in our control? No.…..In relation to hotels …there is a permission for a hotel at Milverton……you have existing hotels in the area, the Bracken Court Hotel…there are hotels in the area. We did make mention that there were local paths across the site….our information is probably incorrect….In relation to the reduction of Open Space lands where we did say 50%……that was a rough estimation on our part…….You can’t say that it’s visible from all areas of Skerries but it is visible. The senior planners tried their best to undermine Holmpatrick Cove- even at one stage Rachael Kenny displaying an incorrect site plan, the one that had been returned in 2009 with the Heritage Centre and Bird Watching building. This was done to illustrate to the councillors how much land would be taken up by the development. It was misleading to say the least. Perhaps an innocent mistake?

But local democracy won on that occasion. The local councillors defended the proposal and managed to persuade enough councillors to trust that they had their community’s best interest at heart.  The vote went in favour of Holmpatrick Cove. Holmpatrick Cove was on a Statutory footing in the 2011-17 Development Plan.

If anyone was to search the public record to read the official minutes of that meeting they would think the councillors who voted for Holmpatrick Cove must have been on some pretty strong substances to have voted the way they did. The public record consists of a Manager’s Report and a record of the way the vote went. But here’s the shocking bit.  When the minutes were published a month later the heading on the minutes said “The following report by the Manager, which had been considered, was CONSIDERED” (to you and I that means that the following report is the one that was debated).  But it wasn’t the report that had been ‘considered’. The report that was debated was substituted by a new, altered even more negative report. For example there were now 11 numbered reasons why Holmpatrick Cove was “highly undesirable.”  The public record is false.   

At the time we asked them why they altered the minutes and got a non-response. Earlier this year we contacted the council again. We provided detail and wanted the public record amended. The official response was “ The Planning History is on the Public Record”. No it’s not.

It is now 2020 and we are mid-way through the 2017-23 Development Plan. Holmpatrick Cove fell between two Development Plans. The council did grant planning permission for Holmpatrick Cove but it was refused by the planning board in 2017. That decision is a re-play of 2010/11.(For example they ignored the Court Judgment and preferred to mention the past refusals due to the substandard entrance etc. etc.). Also, the Statutory Objectives were taken away and exchanged by a ‘Non-Statutory’ Masterplan by the Fingal executive just before the refusal. Oh dear! That didn’t help. But fear not they did leave in one of the three Statutory Objectives- the one about ceding lands to Fingal. Anyway that’s another story and I’m sure there were at least 19 happy people (including the round robin!). Well maybe at least 21. (Must not forget those in the long grass).

The truth is the 2010/11 reports were biased, there were false and exaggerated statements made to further an agenda.  One-sided information was disseminated in a deliberate manner to influence public opinion.  Facts were manipulated and half-truths were presented as fact. The flow of information was controlled and information was withheld from the public. Loaded language was used to produce an emotional rather than a rational response. This is what the senior executives in the council presided over in 2011. Oh! and by the way, I have just outlined the definition of Propaganda.

Two nights ago we went to the Lighthouse Cinema to see The Sound of Music. Our eldest son had bought us all tickets. (He studies film and this was special because it was a 4k restoration of the original film). What a movie! Our youngest had never seen it before which I found hard to believe. Our eldest joked afterwards about the parallels in the end scene when the Von Trapp family are walking over the mountains into Switzerland, leaving everything behind them. They all agreed that they were looking forward to the day that we do the same with the field!


Credit: The Sound of Music- Von Trapp family flee to Switzerland