Galway County Council says it won’t take any action against the son of a controversial Fianna Fáil councillor who illegally built a house on land he didn’t own – which had been repossessed by a bank and sold to a close friend of his councillor father.
In October this year The Ditch reported that the planning consultant son of Galway councillor Séamus Walsh built a house in Oughterard without planning permission. Though the council has confirmed the house is an unauthorised development, it says it’s “immune from prosecution”.
While his son was able to build a house on land he didn’t own, but was rather owned by a family friend, councillor Walsh had a similar deal in place. He managed to continue farming on former land of his that was repossessed by a bank and later sold to the same friend.
Walsh has courted controversy in recent days over comments he made about a suspected arson attack that destroyed a hotel that was to accommodate 70 asylum seekers.
‘Unauthorised but immune from prosecution’
On October 21 this year, two days after the reports that planning consultant Thomas Walsh, son of Séamus, had built the illegal development, a local resident submitted a formal complaint to Galway County Council’s planning enforcement unit.
The council responded three days later, claiming it was the first time a complaint about the illegally built home had been received.
“The article to which you refer states construction work on the dwelling commenced shortly after the land was purchased in 2015 and was substantially complete in 2017, this could mean the unauthorised development is outside the statute of limitations for enforcement proceedings. We have no record of any previous complaints on the matter,” wrote a council official in her correspondence to the resident dated October 24, 2023.
The council also asked in its email if the complainant was “in a position to confirm the date the development commenced”.
Hours later the local resident responded angrily to the local authority’s apparent unwillingness to carry out its own investigation.
“Is it not the job, or within the remit of the council enforcement department to investigate these unauthorised developments?! That would surely include investigating the date on which said unauthorised development started,” said the man in his 24 October email to the council.
Last Friday the complainant was informed that council officials would not be pursuing any action against Séamus Walsh’s son, Thomas.
“This development appears to be unauthorised, but immune from prosecution, as the work was carried out more than seven years ago. It is therefore considered statute limited barred under Section 157 (4) of the Planning & Development Act, 2000. I wish to inform you that the planning enforcement section has now deemed this file to be closed,” wrote enforcement officer Robert Lydon in his email dated 15 December, 2023.
Séamus Walsh attended a protest on Friday against the proposal to house 70 asylum seekers at the Ross Lake Hotel in Rosscahill, county Galway not far from where he lives. The veteran politician told RTÉ that local people were "afraid of what they will encounter from now on with every sort of stranger in the area”.
The hotel was destroyed the following day in a suspected arson attack.
Speaking in the aftermath of the fire, Fianna Fáil councillor Séamus Walsh told reporters, Iif it was done maliciously, it is absolutely the fear for the safety and wellbeing of their families that drove people to this”.
Both Séamus and Thomas Walsh have previously declined to discuss any details concerning their unorthodox property dealings.