‘Hidden gem’: Fine Gael councillor letting investment property on Airbnb – despite failed planning application

A Fine Gael county councillor has been letting one of his seven investment properties on Airbnb despite a failed planning application to use the dwelling as short-term accommodation. 

The application was refused after Galway County Council’s planning inspector said approving the property for short-term accommodation would “exacerbate the existing shortage in supply” of housing in the area. 

County Councillor Joe Byrne’s wife, with whom he co-owns the property, has however been letting the house on Airbnb since at least summer 2019 – with a stay in July costing €300 a night. 

No planning permission. €1,700+ for a week

Fine Gael Galway councillor Joe Byrne, a construction management consultant, co-owns seven investment properties, according to his most recent ethics declaration. He receives half a monthly housing assistance payment of €650 from Limerick City and County Council for one of these properties. 

Another of Byrne’s investments is Glebe Cottage in Kinvara, which he co-owns with his wife Sharon Phelan. 

The Gort-Kinvara local electoral areas, which Byrne represents, were in July 2019 designated as rent pressure zones. Homeowners in rent pressure zones who want to use their properties for short-term lettings are required to apply to their local authority for planning permission. 

Phelan in October 2022 applied to Galway County Council to change the property’s use from residential to tourism and short-term letting. 

In December of that year the council refused the application, with the council planner stating that approving the application would worsen the housing shortage in the area. 

“The proposed change of use from dwelling house to dwelling house for tourism/short-term letting purposes would result in a private dwelling house becoming unavailable from the restricted supply of long-term rental properties available for occupation,” reads the report.  

This “would exacerbate the existing shortage in supply and availability of long-term rented properties within Kinvara and its environs” it added. 

The planner went on to say that granting permission would contravene government policy on rent pressure zones. 

“The proposed development would be contrary to overarching government housing national policy to regulate short-term letting and return residential properties located in ‘rent pressure zones,’” wrote the planner.

Byrne however has been letting the property regardless. 

Byrne’s property – despite being turned down for planning permission for short-term accommodation – has been available to rent on Airbnb since summer 2019, with 25 reviews left by guests for 2023 alone. 

The “hidden gem” in the centre of Kinvara, according to the property’s Airbnb listing, is available to book throughout the year, with a five-night stay in August costing €1,712.

Byrne’s father Toddie Byrne was also a Fine Gael elected official, having served as a senator and county councillor in the 1980s. 

Byrne in August 2023, according to the Connacht Tribune, “lambasted” Galway County Council for allowing rural houses to fall into disrepair, saying they “could have been used to accommodate those on the housing waiting list”. 

He declined to comment.

The Ditch editors

The Ditch editors