Monday, May 22, 2023

Andrew Hamilton

Sham marriage break-ups are being used to skirt the planning restrictions on one-off houses in rural Ireland, Galway County Council has heard.

Councillors at this meeting of Galway County Council highlighted incidences where married couples pretended to break-up in order to successfully secure planning permission for a second, one-off house, in addition to their family home.

Councillors claimed that couples involved in these sham-separations could “easily” produce documentation to support their apparent break-up.

They further claimed that, once planning permission for a second, one-off house was secured, the couple often both moved back into their family home, and sold the second house.

These claims were made in response to a motion from Cllr Joe Byrne (FG), seeking to make alterations to the recently adopted Galway County Development Plan.

The development plan, adopted last year, excludes individuals from applying for planning permission for a one-off house, if they have previously been granted planning permission in the area.

According to Cllr Byrne, this new element of the county development plan is having an unforeseen impact when a marriage breaks-up and a family home is either sold, or one half of the couple moves out.

Speaking on the motion, Moycullen councillor Noel Thomas (FF), said he has witnessed situations where couples pretended to be separated in order to build a second, one-off house which they later sell.

“How do we define what is a breakup in a relationship? They [a married couple] will use it as an excuse, some people will anyway. I’ve seen it myself,” he said.

“It is easy to produce documentation to say that you are separated. This could leave the whole system open for abuse. We need to be very careful in how we move forward with this.”

East Galway councillor, Ivan Canning (FF) warned of the possibility of creating a loophole in the local planning system.

“I know of situations in the past, where people were provided planning permission when there was no partner on the scene. As soon as they get the house, they are back together all of a sudden,” he said.

“I wouldn’t like to see this become a loophole. I know there are a lot of genuine cases out there but we need to be careful.”

A spokesperson for Galway County Council confirmed that the Galway County Development Plan 2022 to 2028 did change the local authority’s approach to incidences of marriage break-ups.

The spokesperson said that, while there is a prevision for exceptions to be made in relation to one-off houses in exceptional circumstances, it does not define what these exceptional circumstances are.

The spokesperson also said that any changes to the Galway County Development Plan would have a significant impact on the resources of the county council’s planning section.

Councillor Byrne (FG) agreed to delay his motion until the next meeting of Galway County Council to allow for the local authority to compile a detailed report on the issue.

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