Offaly independent election candidate running coffee and sauna outlet on public land with no planning permission

An independent candidate for Offaly County Council endorsed by local TD Carol Nolan has been running a business on public land without planning permission.

Having been refused retention permission late last year, local elections candidate Jonathan O’Meara continues to run a coffee “shop unit” and sauna on the site and told The Ditch, “We’re waiting for Offaly County Council to get back to us.” 

Though the council consented to O’Meara applying for retention permission last year, one submission to his planning application argued, “It appears to be treated as privately owned land, not public land. This is a regressive development for residents and visitors.” 

‘We can appeal that’

Independent candidate for Offaly County Council Jonathan O’Meara in 2017 received planning permission for a storage container for sports equipment on public land in Banagher, county Offaly. 

The permission came with five conditions, including for the development to adhere to the original plans and for no signage to be used. 

O’Meara later however decided to open a coffee outlet and sauna on the site and was forced to apply for retention permission from Offaly County Council, with his newspaper notice published in the Offaly Independent in September last year. 

O'Meara calls it a "cabin" while the planning files refer to a "shop unit".

The county council consented to his application. On 29 August, 2023, a council official wrote to “confirm that Offaly County Council consents to a planning application being submitted on behalf of Jonathan O'Meara.. to council owned land at Banagher Marina in the Townland of Curraghavarna and Portavolla”. 

The council’s planner wrote, “I also note that the commercial use of open space zoned lands is contrary to policies” in Offaly’s county development plan. 

A public submission with the application also referred to the use of public land. “If the applicant is successful, it would set a precedent for private or commercial entities to act as they wish and avoid proper planning procedure for their sole benefit of public land.”

On 29 November the council ultimately ruled against O’Meara, refusing him retention permission. 

O’Meara told The Ditch, “Our architects are in negotiations with the county council at the minute,” adding, “We can appeal that.”

When asked if he planned to appeal to An Bord Pleanála, he said “We have a couple of options.”

He said, “We’re a small rural business” and that people recognise they provide a good service to both Banagher locals and tourists. 

O’Meara launched his campaign for Offaly County Council with independent TD Carol Nolan saying at the time, “Jonathan understands the needs of business, the challenges they face and he has a wealth of experience in this sector."  

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors