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Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae flouted planning laws to construct four apartments without planning permission.© Provided by Extra.ie
The secretly built apartments, in Deputy Healy-Rae’s hometown of Kilgarvan, were completed last year. The colourful Kerry TD then sought, and was granted, retention for the subdivided house after he was issued with an enforcement warning letter by Kerry County Council.
Prior to completion of the Kilgarvan development, An Bord Pleanála had moved to block a similar four-apartment scheme Mr Healy-Rae had sought permission to build in Tralee. The Kilgarvan house, known locally as ‘Jack Cahill’s house’, is opposite Mr HealyRae’s post office, shop and petrol station.© Provided by Extra.ie The property at the centre of the issue.
The unauthorised Kilgarvan apartments were not specifically declared by Mr Healy-Rae in his Oireachtas declaration of interest last year, which referred simply to a ‘private house’ in Kilgarvan. Kerry County Council planning files confirm Mr Healy-Rae bought the house in 2018 and submitted a planning application the following year to ‘alter and extend’ the property into a five-bedroom home.
The council granted planning permission in January 2020, subject to conditions. These specified the building must be constructed entirely in accordance with the drawings submitted.
Instead, the Kerry TD built four separate apartments on the site in 2020, during the pandemic. Each apartment has its own entrance, kitchen, bathroom, living room and parking space – none of which was given planning permission. Mr Healy-Rae funded the unauthorised development with a mortgage from Allied Irish Bank, which was secured against the property a month after planning was received.© Provided by Extra.ie Pic: Oireachtas TV
Based on property values in the area, it is likely the politician paid in the region of €65,000 for the property before investing in the redevelopment. He now stands to profit after developing the house into apartments, with the housing crisis creating unprecedented demand for accommodation.
One-bedroom apartments in the area, close to popular tourist destinations Kenmare and Killarney, can command between €80 to €100 a night on Airbnb. Similar units are being let on a long-term basis for between €500 to €600 a month. Kerry County Council confirmed it initiated enforcement action and issued the TD with a warning letter in December 2020 on foot of a complaint.
A council statement said: ‘The unauthorised works referred to in the warning letter included altering, extending and subdividing a house.’
Under planning laws, councils have extensive powers to enforce unauthorised developments up to, and including, demolition. They can also prosecute those in breach of planning rules. As Mr Healy-Rae was building his Kilgarvan apartments, the council was prosecuting him for the alleged unauthorised erection of a billboard across the road.© Provided by Extra.ie Michael Healy-Rae said scenes that smaller rural pubs should have a different set of rules to larger pubs in Dublin following issues with drinking last weekend. Pic: Maxwell Photography/PA Wire
The action was ultimately unsuccessful because the court ruled the seven-year statutory period for planning cases had expired by the time the case was taken. Recently, the council has also initiated enforcement action against Mr Healy-Rae relating to an advertising structure on the gable of a former pub in Tralee. The Kerry TD removed the structure when served with an enforcement notice.
But there would be no enforcement notice relating to the unauthorised apartments in Kilgarvan. Instead, Mr Healy-Rae submitted a retention application at the end of March this year which was approved weeks later, ending the council’s enforcement of the matter. A council spokesman told the MoS: ‘In cases where a grant of permission results, it is the policy of the Planning Authority not to pursue further enforcement actions as such would be almost certainly unsuccessful.’
The spokesman added that enforcement would have been futile because the apartment ‘development did not result in any environmental or other material damage to a protected structure or protected monument’.
Nevertheless, when asked for the council’s view on unauthorised development, the spokesman said: ‘Kerry County Council believes that a strong culture of enforcement is critical to ensure that all goals and objectives of the planning function work to a high standard and for the benefit of the whole community.’
(Additional reporting Ken Foxe)