Prefacing his comments, the Ballina-based representative said his party did not deserve to have ‘all hell and damnation unleashed on it’ because it is proposing planning reforms.
“We are the only party, along with Fine Gael, to take disciplinary action against everybody mentioned and cited in the Mahon report,” he insisted.
He called for an Oireachtas debate on the planning system ‘to establish where it is going and reflect on the many mistakes made in the past ten years’.
He elaborated: “I am saying this in the context of 99 per cent of public representatives who have served in a council chamber or in Dáil Éireann having done so in the best interests of their communities.
“It is unfortunate, however, that the remaining one per cent have sullied all of our names and reputations. Some 99 per cent of officials in all local authorities are good. I say that in the context of my daily dealings with officials in Mayo County Council and the three town councils.
“We are lucky to have them. They are farseeing, decent and work 24/7. However, we need to have a full discussion on planning.
“I remind people of the noughties when the biggest issue facing us was getting people a house. While many of the planning decisions made at that time are now considered to have been mad, the biggest issue then facing public representatives and of public debate was the shortage of housing units.
“People could not get a house or were paying bizarre amounts of money for one. It must be remembered that that debate was going on at a time when many of the decisions, which are now being criticised in the context of where we are now, were being made. We must be conscious of this in the context of all future decisions.
“One of the difficulties of the Mahon report, and of any other reports which are published on this issue, is the focus on personalities and councils involved.
“We need to bring the debate back to the consequences for those people living in the communities involved. For instance, we have a serious problem in terms of unfinished estates.
“The only good thing to come out of this debacle was the household charge, which because of the manner in which it was handled by the department, means we now have a register of so-called unfinished estates. Now that we have it, the work to complete these unfinished estates can begin. That register, in conjunction with SOLAS and the local employment agencies, can be utilised to finish these estates.”
Deputy Calleary referred to development levies which local authorities used as revenue during the so-called boom times.
He said: “What was done with that revenue in some areas is questionable. The initiative to deal with unfinished estates could be funded by a levy on councils which were paid development levies, although I acknowledge those councils are currently under enormous pressure.
“Some councils spent that money on gleaming headquarters and others spent it on infrastructure projects. However, the original intention of the development levy was that it would be spent on facilities in an area rather than on homages to architects and so on. We need the councils, as well as government, to take responsibility for this initiative.
“Everybody is agreed we have too many planning authorities in the State but let us not throw out the baby with the bath water by centralising it into one superquango answerable to nobody, which, quite frankly, is a bit like what An Bord Pleanála is at present.
“Nobody can question its decisions. If one wants to appeal a decision of An Bord Pleanála, one must take a judicial review and who has the money to do this? While I respect it must be independent, it must also be accountable as a State agency.
“Some people would like us to live in a planning ivory tower where everything is perfect and laid out wonderfully and we all live close to where we are supposed to live. “However, this is Ireland, which is a rurally-based country with a settlement pattern dating back hundreds of years which does not lend itself to ivory tower-style planning policies.
“We must be realistic about this and we must be fair to people who choose to live in rural areas and want to have facilities. They are willing to pay for these facilities and do so dearly through levies and charges.
“The notion that everybody should live in a town and travel to the country at weekends is wrong and should be knocked on the head. However, it is what some people would like us to do.
“In other debates we discuss the closure of schools, the withdrawal of services and rural school transport because in many counties people do not get the chance to live in rural areas because of policies made in ivory towers where everything is perfect. Fortunately, as politicians, we live in the real world and we must try to represent people.
“The notion of centralising into one planning authority which decides everything for the country is wrong. There needs to be local input. However, at present too many local authorities are involved in planning.
“Town councils are fighting with county councils and city councils are fighting with county councils about land. This does not make for a good government and certainly does not make for good planning. I hope when Minister Phil Hogan publishes his review of local government, he will face up to this,” he added.