West Cork nun found guilty of breaching planning laws

West Cork nun found guilty of breaching planning laws
Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court (carrying a 'Child of Prague' religious statue) and Sr Anne Marie of the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

A CARMELITE nun has been found guilty of a breach of the Planning Development Act over unauthorised structures in West Cork, in a case in which the judge heard the two members of the Order faced becoming homeless and Cork County Council was accused by another nun of being ‘vindictive’ and ‘coldhearted’.

Sister Irene Gibson, a Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus, faced one charge in relation to a site she owns at Corran South near Leap.

The case had previously come before Judge James McNulty in Skibbereen District Court in May, when Sr Irene and a recent entrant into the Order, New Zealand native Sr Anne Marie, were given until December 10 to make arrangements to move elsewhere.

However, back before Judge McNulty in Skibbereen today Sr Irene pleaded not guilty to the charge alleging a breach of Section 154 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.

Sr Irene had no legal representation and gave evidence on her own behalf, while also calling Sr Ann Marie to the stand.

Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court (carrying a 'Child of Prague' religious statue) and Sr Anne Marie of the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts
Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court (carrying a 'Child of Prague' religious statue) and Sr Anne Marie of the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Both nuns claimed that one aspect of the structure, a green modular building which had been the subject of complaints by locals, had already been removed by the time of the last court date.

They told the judge they believed the remaining structures - four garden sheds, refashioned as cells, some fencing and signage and a storage container - were exempt from planning and were temporary dwellings.

Both nuns said Sr Irene had made a significant financial loss as a result and that they had been attempting to comply with requests from Cork County Council, referred to by Sr Anne Marie as ‘unreasonable’, ‘vindictive’ and ‘cold-hearted’.

But solicitor for the local authority, Patricia Murphy, said the council had ‘very reluctantly’ brought the matter to court and argued that the nuns had been given ample opportunity to comply with requests to cease and desist activity at the site.

Philip O’Sullivan, executive planner for the local authority, said there would be ‘complete anarchy’ in the planning system if the nuns were allowed to stay and the structures allowed to remain.

He said he had visited the site just this week and found the nuns were still resident.

He said one of the nuns had shouted at him and made disparaging remarks.

Ms Murphy said the council first flagged the issue back in 2016 and at one point the nuns attended a meeting on which Independent TD Michael Collins spoke on their behalf.

Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court (carrying a 'Child of Prague' religious statue) and Sr Anne Marie of the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts
Sr Irene Gibson, Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus pictured leaving Skibbereen District Court (carrying a 'Child of Prague' religious statue) and Sr Anne Marie of the Holy Family Carmelite Hermitage, Leap, Co Cork.Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Cork Courts

Ms Murphy argued that the nuns could not have been left in any doubt as to their obligations under the planning regulations and added that if Sr Irene now made a financial loss ‘she is the mistress of her own demise’.

Judge McNulty said he was satisfied that the local authority had proved its case and convicted Sr Irene, but said he would defer penalty to allow the nuns more time to move elsewhere.

The case was adjourned until next April, with Sr Irene telling the judge that an elderly farmer near Youghal in east Cork has offered them the use of a house which is currently under second fix repair.

She also said she may have a buyer for the site near Leap.

Judge McNulty told her: “I am a great believer in ‘the Lord provides’ - but he may need to hurry up. You may need to pray harder, Sister.”

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