Mick Clifford: The perpetual appeal of Peter Sweetman (2023)

Peter Sweetmanisn’t sure how many judicial reviews he has on the go right now. “Ten I think,” he says, before reconsidering.

“Twelve maybe, or 13. Three of them are there since 2014.” He talks about his legal cases as an old GAA star might about big championship days.

So show me your medals? “My last 34 finalised cases, I’ve won 30 of them. I haven’t lost the others yet, they’re not done.”

He is sitting at a table in a Dublin hotel in T-shirt and jeans. His rucksack is at his feet, a laptop at his side. His hair is swept back over his shoulders, neat and straight and strong. He is a low-sized man who wears a smile that is as aged as a good wine. Balanced against the table is the stick that helps him to walk. He’s pushing 80 but the fire still burns.

“Some [cases] we would take on because we believe we’re going to win,” he says. “Some we take on because we believe we can make very good law by winning them.”

Mick Clifford: The perpetual appeal of Peter Sweetman (1)

This former woodturner is a serial litigator on planning matters. His specialised subject is European directives and the way they go walkabout when planning applications are put together. Unlike practically any other serial litigator, he wins far more than he loses.

Three times he has tasted victory in the European Court of Justice. In the High Court, where planning laws and decisions from An Bord Pleanála are challenged, mention of his name makes all the big gun legal people sit up. Sweetman? Hold on to your wig.

He has arrived in the Big Smoke from his home way out in north Mayo to meet with his legal team about an ongoing case.

(Video) Meet the Press NOW — March 10

'[The minister] doesn't know what he's talking about'

But he also wants to talk about Peter Burke, the junior minister for housing, who, if he has his way, might force Sweetman to kick back and act his age.

Mick Clifford: The perpetual appeal of Peter Sweetman (2)

Burke wants to make it more difficult to take a judicial review of planning decisions. The current system, he and others believe, is too unwieldy and slow and too convenient for every Tom, Dick and Peter to initiate. The contrary view is that tampering with the ability to object is an attack on democratic principles.

So where stands Peter Sweetman on Peter Burke?

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” says Sweetman:

We do have delays in planning, yes. But you can only judicially review on legal points. Any case I won was because the board [An Bord Pleanála] got it wrong.

"If you want to talk about delays, though; from the date of a board decision you have eight weeks to get a judicial review going. Now I’m trying to get the board to also respond within eight weeks. If I can do it, why can’t they?

(Video) DEBATE: Is Jesus Divine in the New Testament? Shabir Ally vs. Michael Lofton

“I’ve one case from 2014 and they haven’t even come back with their side of the case. That’s where the delays are.”

He says that any attempt to limit the scope for planning decisions to be reviewed in the court will prompt a challenge. “It would be inviting another court case from me,” he says. “I believe I could take a case to the European Court of Human Rights. Planning is governed by a UN treaty based on human rights and if the rights are going to be diluted I could take a case on that basis.

What's your view on this issue? You can tell us here

“In any event, I’d be confident that if I lost in the Irish courts the European Commission would challenge it in the European courts. That’s if I live long enough. It can take a long time.”

He's been fighting planning decisions for a long time. It all started about 30 years ago, when he was a lad of only 50 summers. He comes from a family that was prominent in Fine Gael circles and even further back to the foundation of the state — his father Gerard was minister for finance in a Fine Gael coalition. The family owned a big field outside Naas and there were plans to build a piggery there.

“I started out as a NIMBY,” he says. “They were going to put a three-storey pig farm in there on the banks of the Liffey. We got it stopped. My next case involved Jimmy Goldsmith (who was a prominent political and business figure in Britain). The same company was building one next door to his property in France. He wanted to know how we had managed to stop it in Kildare and then he won it in France.”

Since then, he has gone from case to case. Most involve attempting to block development that would have negative consequences for the environment, but not all of his cases can be thus categorised.

One case that got away from Peter Sweetman

One such example was the South Kerry Greenway which, one might have expected, would have a positive impact on the environment in a holistic manner. Yet Sweetman saw what he believed was a gap in the law.

Mick Clifford: The perpetual appeal of Peter Sweetman (3)

One of the grounds on which he objected was that there had been a “failure to take the requisite measures to establish a system of strict protection for the Kerry slug and lesser horseshoe bat in their natural range,” according to court documents.

“In my opinion, the design of that project was the problem. The project that got permission is not the one that was applied for. It’s contrary to European law.”

That opinion is not shared by the courts. Following the judicial review and subsequent hearing in the Court of Appeal, the greenway project got the go-ahead this week when the Supreme Court ruled that no public interest legal issue required examination. A rare defeat.

(Video) Watch: TODAY All Day - Jan. 17

Peter Sweetman’s status is now, and has been for some time, such that whenever a big planning matter arises around the country for an individual or group, somebody gets in touch with him. But he is usually wary of those cases.

“Most of them I don’t take because it’s usually on the wrong grounds,” he says.

So where does he source the material? “I read the Bord Pleanála lists, I read the council lists, I have a couple of helpers reading lists for me. I look for things where I think they’re going to break the law. Usually I’m right. I seem to be embarrassingly good at finding their mistakes.”

(Video) Killer Laughs at Dad Crying for Daughter, He Snaps..

Does that make him a contrarian, seeking out the soft points of the system where he can expose mistakes for the sake of it?

“Possibly. Well, no, there are cases where I could have taken them on just to be contrarian but I have decided not to. Since last autumn there were about 30 cases I could have got involved in and I only did two. I have never in my mind taken a contrarian case. I have taken ones that others consider contrarian, but that’s a different matter. But I do get a kick out of winning. Anybody who says they don’t get a kick out of it is a liar.”

Age has not withered his enthusiasm. He says he has slowed down in recent years to a point where he’s now only putting in 70 hours a week. Seventy? “Yeah. I work and sleep. That’s all I do. Very boring really.”

What about putting his feet up? Even if the proposals currently on the Government agenda to dispatch challenges like his is ultimately faced down, does he ever consider basking in what he has already achieved in taking on the system?

“I would like to retire,” he says, although a smile plays on his face, as if he wouldn’t really. “But the An Bord Pleanála decisions and State decisions aren’t improving, if anything they’re getting worse. If I retired now, they’d run riot.”

At the conclusion of the interview, he waves away any offer to call a taxi to take him to his destination in the city. His solicitor is near the Luas line, he explains. He doesn’t bother with his jumper, just hikes the rucksack onto his back and heads out into the chilly February air in a

“I don’t feel the cold,” he says. And with that he’s off, moving on to the next project, the next challenge, that will ensure he keeps on keepin’ on.

Read More

The Mick Clifford Podcast: Planning to stick around - Peter Sweetman

(Video) Jonathan M. Hall | Archaeology and Myth: Some Reflections


1. Boeing B738 NG | KATL - KTPA - KFLL | Vatsim FNO
3. 05 God’s Prophetic Chain – Pastor Stephen Bohr | Congress Shall Make no Law
4. California's Most Infamous Murder Case: The Hunt for the Boneyard Killers | Real Crime
(Real Crime)
5. The Boneyard: The Chilling Discovery of Leonard Thomas Lake's Crimes | Real Stories
(Real Stories)
6. The Mind Of Psychopathic Serial Killers | The Boneyard | Absolute Documentaries
(Absolute Documentaries)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Reed Wilderman

Last Updated: 11/12/2022

Views: 5652

Rating: 4.1 / 5 (72 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Reed Wilderman

Birthday: 1992-06-14

Address: 998 Estell Village, Lake Oscarberg, SD 48713-6877

Phone: +21813267449721

Job: Technology Engineer

Hobby: Swimming, Do it yourself, Beekeeping, Lapidary, Cosplaying, Hiking, Graffiti

Introduction: My name is Reed Wilderman, I am a faithful, bright, lucky, adventurous, lively, rich, vast person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.