A view of the former convent in Kilcormac, subject to the now rejected planning application.

Kilcormac treatment centre plan rejected

Almost two years after a proposal to set up a residential drug and alcohol treatment centre in Kilcormac first came to light, the project has been rejected by An Bord Pleanála.

The proposal from Serenity Home Ltd to convert the former Convent of Mercy, on the main street of the village, into a rehabilitation unit for up to 13 clients was granted permission by Offaly County Council last August.

However, a group called 'Concerned Residents Kilcormac', care of its chairperson Carmel Charles Gilligan, appealed it to An Bord Pleanála and in a verdict signed on April 25 the planning board decided to refuse permission.

In doing so, the board went against the recommendation of its inspector, Dolores McCague, who wrote a report advising that the project be allowed to proceed.

Ms McCague expressed the opinion that a rehabiltation centre would be acceptable given that it would be "of limited scale" and that its clients would not be "interacting with the local community" but would remain within the professionally-staffed facility for the 30-day duration of their stay.

The planning board stated that its decision to refuse permission was due to concerns about the impact which the development would have on the convent building itself, which is a protected structure.

The board said it was not satisfied that the change of use to a rehabilitation unit would not "result in the loss of original fixtures and features" which would have "a serious and detrimental impact on the interior" of the building.

The appeal, which had been brought by 'Concerned Residents Kilcormac' had outlined a variety of reservations about the development, including the potential for anti-social behaviour.

It also expressed concerns about the proximity of the building to a children's playground, a possible impact on property values, and the loss of "a valuable regeneration opportunity" for the village at the convent, which has been vacant since 2018.

When the initial planning application was made to Offaly County Council, local TD Carol Nolan was among the objectors to it, saying she had been contacted by a number of local residents who felt the location of the centre was unsuitable.

Local councillor John Leahy supported the proposed centre and told the Offaly Independent he was "bitterly disappointed" by An Bord Pleanála's decision.

He felt opponents of the project had based their objections around "a stereotypical opinion of what was going to be in the centre," and that "nothing could be further from the truth."

Following the planning decision, Cllr Leahy claimed there was a possibility that the convent building could be used to house refugees in the future, as its current owner Pat Donaghy had "put in the region of €500,000" into Kilcormac and would have to recoup that investment.

During the planning process, Pat Donaghy of Serenity Home Ltd said the rehabilitation centre was supported by representatives of Kilcormac Development Centre and Kilcormac Economic Development Group.

He said the centre would have been staffed by "a skilled professional multidisciplinary staff team" including a clinical manager, relief manager, and four therapists, as well as administrative, maintenance, cooking and cleaning staff.

Mr Donaghy was contacted by the Offaly Independent but was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.