Supporting Local News

Man prosecuted for building house instead of agricultural storage unit

A man who successfully applied to convert ruins on the Wild Atlantic Way into an agricultural storage unit instead turned them into a house with decking, for his family to live in.

But now, Seamus Conneely of Drinagh, Errislannen, Clifden, has been ordered to return the old ruins to agricultural use – although he has pleaded for time to lodge a fresh planning application.

Conneely appeared before Clifden District Court last week, charged with failing to comply with the terms of an enforcement notice issued under Section 154 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

The enforcement notice ordered him to cease construction of an unauthorised building, remove all internal works making it habitable, remove a septic tank and remove decking built around it.

The building was created from two ruins instead of doing them up as two separate agricultural sheds as granted under the planning permission that was issued in 2011.

Following the first inspection by Galway County Council enforcement officer Enda Thompson in 2016, warning letters and then an enforcement notice was issued to Conneely, a part-time farmer and plumber.

An inspection was carried out by enforcement officer Tom Dunworth in October 2022, which found the living quarters remained, consisting of a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms with a concrete tank on the site corner with pipes leading from the house into it, which acted as a wastewater treatment unit.

A second enforcement notice was issued in November 2022, which was also not complied with.

Conneely applied for retention permission in 2017 but this was refused on multiple grounds, including the protected landscape, the potential flood risk at the site and a potential threat to the water supply. Two more applications for retention were submitted, the second was refused but the third one, which was for an agricultural shed to be retained on the site, was granted.

Drawings submitted as part of that application did not show any living quarters or bathrooms in the building but indicated an agricultural shed.

Defence solicitor Noel Rattigan said there was no septic tank on the property but there was a holding tank which held whatever waste was created by the house.

One of the reasons for the refusal in the first retention application was that his client was not from the local area, even though he could provide proof that he had attended primary and secondary school in the area, Mr Rattigan told Clifden District Court.

Conneely testified that he returned home after his mother had died and needed a home for himself, his wife and two children.

“I had nowhere to live. I was refused on ludicrous grounds,” he exclaimed.

Judge Mary Fahy asked why he had not appealed the refusal for retention. The defendant said he was told it would cost €2,500 to lodge an appeal to An Bord Pleanála by his agent and he could not afford the fee.

Judge Fahy stated that if everybody took the same attitude to building it would be “the wild west”.

“It’s a very clear-cut situation. You get planning permission or you don’t. If you are refused, you appeal to An Bord Pleanála. That’s the law…the means in which he’s dealt with this leaves a lot to be desired.”

Solicitor for Galway County Council Dermot Caslin said this was “the most flagrant breach” of the planning laws and he was opposing any move to delay the removal of the unauthorised dwelling.

“€5,000 is the maximum fine. We’ve never sought the maximum before, but this is at the top end of the scale so we’re seeking a €5,000 maximum fine. I’m also applying for my costs which date from 2016 to 2023 so they’re substantial – €4,500.”

Mr Rattigan asked for time to make a fresh application for a house.

Judge Fahy described it as one of the worst breaches she had seen in her 40 years of practising law. But she agreed to put a stay on her order for four months to give the Conneelys time to make alternative living arrangements.

She convicted and fined the defendant €1,000 and ordered him to pay the Council’s legal costs of €3,500.

(Photo: Clifden Courthouse)

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