Minister of State, John Paul Phelan, told the elected members of Mayo County Council this week: "This is the law of the land and you have been breaching it for years," in response to a spate of complaints from elected members of the local authority to a circular issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, calling on members not to discuss planning applications at public meetings.
Minister Phelan was at the April meeting of the council to give the members a presentation on the plans his Department has in relation to reforming local government in the country, but he also took questions on a wide ranging number of topics from the members.
The issue at hand is that councillors in Mayo have discussed planning applications at local meetings in the county, but this is not the practice in other local authorities and the letter from Minister Eoghan Murphy's Department has called on this practice to stop.
Minister Phelan said: "In some parts of the country there is no discussion of individual planning files, while in others like Mayo there is a discussion of files. I would have a great problem with individuals' applications being discussed in public at a council meeting — the laws haven't been changed, it is just that a clarification has been issued.
The chief executive of Mayo County Council, Peter Hynes, said he agreed with the interpretation of the law as stated in the circular, he added that there was still an opportunity for councillors to make representations on planning applications by engaging with the council's planning staff, but just not discussing them at public meetings.
A large number of the councillors at the meeting this week and in Municipal District meetings in recent weeks have been highly critical of the circular from the Department, with a number of them saying it was another blow to local democracy.