The remarks of An Taoiseach Micheál Martin in a recent Dáil debate that politicians were entitled to make comments on planning matters - has been interpreted by a number of councillors in the Castlebar area to mean that they can once again start discussing planning applications at their meetings.
Both Fianna Fáil councillor Al McDonnell and Fine Gael councillor Cyril Burke stated their intentions to start discussing live planning applications again at local authority meetings, at the June meeting of the Castlebar Municipal District this week.
In 2018 a circular issued by then Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, directed that planning matters should not be discussed at council meetings as they previously had and this circular caused much debate amongst councillors who rejected the Minister's directive; but ultimately, the directive was followed by council management and planning was removed as an agenda item for meetings.
In March of this year, Cllr Burke put forward a motion that was passed by both the Castlebar Municipal District and the full body of Mayo County Council, calling on the current Minister for housing, Darragh O'Brien TD, to allow planning to be discussed again by councillors.
At this month's meeting of Castlebar Municipal District, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne expressed his disappointment at the response from Minister O'Brien, reaffirming the directive of the previous Minister. Cllr Kilcoyne commented that: "The conclusion we can take is obviously the Minister is more powerful than the Taoiseach."
Cllr Al McDonnell said: "It is on the public record, the Taoiseach has said that it is in order for elected members to discuss live planning matters. As far as I'm concerned, we don't require any additional conformation or otherwise.
"I don't require any further conformation for my personal entitlement to discuss or any elected member in Ireland, to comment on live planning matters, and you can take it as from now Cathaoirleach, I will be commenting on live planning matters."
Cllr Burke followed in the footsteps of his fellow councillor, saying: "I'm extremely disappointed to see the circular coming back; like Cllr McDonnell, I intend to discuss planning matters here that I feel need to be brought to attention. There are people out there who aren't being justified in their applications and where we feel that they tick all the criteria. I don't see any reason - they are matters of public interest and it is in the interest of the people that we represent and I don't think there should be any issue about highlighting these issues."
Fine Gael councillor Donna Sheridan told the meeting that: "I agree with everything said, I think it should go back on the agenda. Reading the original letter, it says should not be discussed, it doesn't say it is precluded from being discussed or it must not, it says should not. Where it says should not, that can be interpreted that it should not, but it does not preclude it, I think we should put it (planning ) back on the agenda until we are told differently."
Cllr Kilcoyne pointed out that the new circular issued from the Minster says that if planning is discussed, the council officials can not be present, so what would the point of that be?
Head of the Municipal District for Mayo County Council, Iarla Moran, told the members that he had not seen the new circular that they were referring to and he would have to look at it before he commented.