O’Brien accuses Sinn Féin of seeking to ‘filibuster’ planning overhaul as delays mount

Committee stage of Planning and Development Bill could last another six weeks, Fianna Fáil meeting told

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has accused Sinn Féin of seeking to “filibuster” the Government’s overhaul Ireland’s planning system amid concern in Fianna Fáil that the proposals could take another six weeks to move on to the next stage in the legislative process.

The mammoth 700-page-plus Planning and Development Bill 2023, one of the largest in the history of the State, has been at committee stage in the Dáil for more than three weeks so far over the course of several meetings.

Mr O’Brien’s remarks come a day after a joint statement by Sinn Féin, Labour, the Social Democrats and People Before Profit which expressed “deep concern” at the schedule imposed on the Oireachtas Committee on Housing for dealing with the planning Bill.

It came after Government committee members sought to schedule meetings for the week after St Patrick’s Day.

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The statement said that “by trying to compress consideration of the legislation into this onerous schedule the Government members of the committee are preventing proper scrutiny of a Bill that will impact the lives of millions of people for decades to come”.

Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday was told that almost 1,500 amendments have been tabled to the legislation with Mr O’Brien suggesting about a third are minor, another third are duplicate and 600 to 700 are “genuine”.

He singled out Sinn Féin as trying to “filibuster” the Bill, claiming votes were being “strategically called” to delay the proceedings and it appeared that the rival party was trying to push the Government to end the debate by guillotining the Bill.

The meeting was told that Mr O’Brien does not want to see this happen.

The Bill aimed at improving the planning system is a key part of Mr O’Brien’s plan to tackle the housing crisis.

He is understood to have told the meeting that delays at An Bord Pleanála are having a “material impact” on these efforts and further delays to the planning Bill “will only make things worse for families waiting on housing”.

Dublin North-West TD Paul McAuliffe, a member of the Committee on Housing which is examining the Bill, estimated it could take six more weeks of sittings, Monday through Friday, including during the forthcoming Dáil recess, to deal with all the amendments.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin told the meeting that the planning Bill had been the subject of a lengthy pre-legislative scrutiny process in which the Opposition had engaged.

He told the meeting that the Government wanted to deliver a reformed planning system and also highlighted how a delay could impact on climate targets when it comes to delivering wind farms and other infrastructure.

Sinn Féin’s spokesman on housing Eoin Ó Broin said on Wednesday night that the schedule being imposed by the Government is “simply unworkable”.

Mr Ó Broin wrote to Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl on Wednesday asking if his office has any power to assist in resolving the “serious dispute” that has arisen over the scheduling of the Committee consideration of the Bill.

He wrote that committee stage has had an average of seven meetings a week lasting up to 19 hours across three days, adding that the schedule was preventing members tracking the Bill from carrying out other functions.

Mr Ó Broin added: “This week we were informed that Government now wants to increase the schedule for the week after the recess to 24 hours a week and to meet two full days in the first week of the longer recess.

“This is simply unworkable.”

He proposed that a Joint Committee be held each sitting week to allow the Committee to get on with other business and four Select Committee meetings be held each sitting week to allow the Bill to progress.

Separately, Mr Martin told the meeting he was “extremely concerned” about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, saying it was not clear if an agreement on a ceasefire would be agreed before Ramadan.

He welcomed the European Commission decision to allocate €50 million for Unrwa, the United Nations agency that supports the Palestinian people, and noted that Canada was resuming funding.

Mr Martin said the humanitarian situation, including famine, was shocking.

The Tánaiste also urged TDs and senators to continue efforts to secure Yes-Yes votes in Friday’s referendums on family and care.

He said feedback from the campaign was “very positive”, particularly among young people.

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