I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am sure she is aware of the court case that took place in Waterford in which a former Fine Gael town councillor was found guilty of accepting corrupt payments. This is an issue of concern, not only for the people of County Waterford but also for the people of this State. It shows that corruption has not gone away and reinforces the need for all of us to ensure we have proper and robust systems in place to protect the integrity of the planning system. The fact that this former town councillor did not have a vote in respect of the contentious zoning issue that led to the investigation in the first place, and which was at the centre of the individual's having accepted bribes and corrupt payments from a developer, is all the more intriguing. The court case and the subsequent conviction of the former town councillor also raise a number of very serious issues that need to be addressed.
The first and obvious one is in regard to the developer who made corrupt payments to him. There is also the need to clarify why a majority of councillors voted for the planning decision which led to the rezoning of the land in question. We need to have a full and independent inquiry into the motivations behind the decision making which led to that piece of land being rezoned. There is no doubt whatsoever that many of the individuals concerned, perhaps all, who voted for the rezoning did so with the best of intentions. Given that corrupt payments were made to a town councillor in respect of this zoning issue, however, it is important that this matter be investigated fully.
It is also important for us to understand the decision making arrived at by some of the councillors who voted for the zoning of this land. They voted in its favour, against the wishes of the county manager, the planners in Waterford County Council and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, who subsequently overturned the decision. It is important for those individuals, including the councillors who voted for the rezoning, that we have a thorough inquiry that will reach whatever conclusions it must. It is also important for the people of Waterford, especially those who live in the county, and for the people of this State. In addition, we need to implement the main recommendations of the Mahon report, one of which was that we should have an independent planning regulator so that if there were any contentious rezonings they could be properly regulated.
I was a city councillor for seven years and I know there is pressure on councillors in the context of the formation of development plans and the rezoning of land. People act for the best of reasons, even if it means going against the wishes of a manager. In itself, this does not indicate any wrong-doing. I listened to what many of the councillors who voted in favour of the zoning said and believe them when they state they acted in the best interests of the people of County Waterford. However, given that at least one corrupt payment was made, and to a person who did not even have a vote in the zoning decision, it is reasonable and acceptable that we should have an independent and thorough inquiry into this zoning issue and the decision making involved.