Councillor facing fresh ethics inquiry
WICKLOW County Council’s ethics committee has been ordered by the High Court to carry out a fresh inquiry into complaints that Cllr. Fachtna Whittle breached ethics legislation.
Cllr. Whittle, who is also a solicitor, is accused by Green Party Senator Deirdre de Burca of proposing and voting for the rezoning of land without disclosing that the land belonged to an owner his law firm had represented.
On Wednesday, Justice John Hedigan ruled that the ethics committee hadn’t dealt with the right questions while reviewing the case.
In June of 2005 the committee released its findings, mainly that while Cllr. Whittle had been ‘unwise to propose the motion he did’ he had no ‘beneficial or pecuniary interest’ and the complaint was ‘unjustified’.
Justice Hedigan has now quashed that report and has directed the Council to review the matter. He felt that if the Council had properly construed the provisions of the local government act 2001 relating to ethical frameworks then the ethics committee wouldn’t have reached the conclusion it did. Senator de Burca had argued that the report failed to ask did Cllr. Whittle have a beneficial interest, within the meaning of section 176.2 of the 2001 act, when proposing the rezoning of lands at Ballylusk, Ashford to extend a quarry there. She felt he had breached the ethics provision by failing to disclose that his legal firm was acting for the quarry owner in legal proceedings trying to determine the planning status of the site. Cllr. Whittle argued that even if the rezoning had been adopted it wouldn’t have had an affect on those proceedings, and that he was only aware of the proceedings involving the landowner in a very ‘general way’.
Judge Hedigan ruled that the council had failed to consider the concept of a deemed beneficial interest and had ‘made a serious error of law’. The ethics committee must now carry out a second investigation under which councillors provide details of declarable interests as part of the annual declaration.