Former An Bord Pleanála deputy chair Paul Hyde jailed for two months

Judge describes openness and accountability as ‘pillars of democracy’ as architect sentenced for failing to fully declare interests

A former deputy chair of An Bord Pleanála has been sentenced to two months in jail after he pleaded guilty to two counts of failing to declare his interests in a number of properties when an officer of the board in breach of planning law requirements.

Paul Hyde (50), of Castlefields, Baltimore, Co Cork, appeared before Bandon District Court on Friday for sentence on two breaches of Section 147 of the Planning Development Act 2000 which required him as an officer of the board to declare all properties registered to him.

Judge James McNulty said: “It should be clear that ethical standards in public life matter. Statutory obligations requiring disclosure of interests, created in the public interest, for the public interest, require strict compliance and careful attention.”

The judge had previously heard from Det Sgt Shane Curtis of the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau that he had been appointed to investigate Hyde’s declaration of interest after two articles about Hyde and An Bord Pleanála were published by The Ditch website and Village magazine.

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One of the articles had been sent to Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien, who has responsibility for An Bord Pleanála and he appointed Remy Farrell SC to carry out a review of the organisation while gardaí were separately tasked with examining Hyde’s declaration of interests.

He said he found Hyde had listed a series of properties in 2015 in which he had interest including four houses at Pope’s Hill and two houses in Douglas, all in Cork city, a house in Baltimore in Co Cork, an apartment in Castletroy in Limerick and a site with planning permission in Rathduff in Co Cork.

However, he had failed to include a small plot of land at the Pope’s Hill registered to the Hyde Partnership set up with his father, Stephen, and this was in breach of the requirement under Section 147 of the Planning and Development Act that he declare all properties in which he had interest.

Judge McNulty heard that this plot, described as “a ransom strip” at Pope’s Hill, was transferred in September 2017 for a sum of €20,000 to a company called Planica in which Hyde had no interest but in which one of his siblings was a shareholder.

Det Sgt Curtis said, in his 2018 return, Hyde failed to include all the properties that he had listed in 2015 save for one of the properties in Douglas and the property in Baltimore, which were exempted as they were principal properties, and this again amounted to a breach of the regulations.

Prosecution barrister John Berry BL said that under the Planning and Development Act 2000, failure to declare an interest in properties when an officer of An Bord Pleanála was a summary offence that carried a maximum penalty of six months in jail or a fine of €5,000.

Defence barrister Paula McCarthy BL said, regarding the 2015 breach, her client had conflated the An Bord Pleanála code of conduct which had a threshold value for declarations and the planning regulations which had no threshold, and he thought the plot of land came in below the threshold.

She said Hyde’s failure in 2018 to declare the same list of properties he had listed in previous years was because the properties had gone into receivership in 2017 and he had no control over them and thought they were exempt even though they weren’t because he remained the registered owner.

Ms McCarthy said her client was a qualified architect who had been unemployed since he resigned from An Bord Pleanála in July 2022, and that he did not gain financially in any way from his offending which had proven detrimental for him professionally and personally.

She said he had no previous convictions and had indicated at an early stage that he would be pleading guilty and, by his plea, he had saved the State the cost and time of a complex trial which was a significant mitigation factor as she pleaded with Judge McNulty not to record a conviction.

But on Friday Judge McNulty said it was useful to examine the public interest background and the specific Irish context, including the Irish Planning and Development Act 2000 which created the offences to which Hyde had pleaded guilty.

“Openness, transparency and accountability in governance, together with independence, impartiality and integrity among decision makers, are among the important pillars on which a modern democracy and a prosperous economy are built and maintained,” he said.

He recalled the establishment of the Planning Tribunal which ran from 1997 to 2012 and Hyde, as a citizen and as an architect, must have been well aware of its recommendations and he also ought to have been aware of the requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

When Hyde became a member of An Bord Pleanála in 2014, he signed a code of conduct agreement which stated that the board’s aim was “to carry out its works in an independent manner that embodies the public service ethos of integrity, impartiality and a desire to serve the public interest”.

“What makes these offences so serious is that the work of An Bord Pleanála is quasi-judicial in nature, and at the high end of quasi-judicial. It is the appeal forum for citizens who may be dissatisfied, for whatever reasons, with the decisions of local planning authorities nationwide.

“An Bord Pleanála is also the decision maker, first and last, in a range of important matters such as high volume Strategic Housing Developments and major infrastructure. So ABP has an enormous power in the land and consequently in the lives and fortunes of citizens and communities.”

Judge McNulty said he believed that given the seriousness of the offences, a custodial sentence was warranted and, while they were not at the more egregious end of the scale, they were equally not at the lower end, and he believed a sentence of three months was warranted.

There was one aggravating factor, namely that Hyde was in a position of leadership and authority on An Bord Pleanála and it was incumbent on him to lead by example in compliance with statutory obligations.

“But if those who are in leadership and authority are lax and careless and non-compliant, what will those in the ranks do? They will be lax and careless too, almost as if compliance was an option,” the judge said, adding this aggravating factor led him to believe the appropriate sentence was four months.

However, he also had to take account of mitigating factors, most notably Hyde’s early guilty plea and the fact he had no previous convictions which entitled him to the maximum discount of 50 per cent leaving him with two months to serve in jail, said Judge McNulty who fixed recognisances for an appeal.

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