Developer jailed over 'Achill-Henge'

 

Property developer Joe McNamara has been jailed until next Tuesday by a High Court judge for contempt of an order requiring him to immediately cease building a ‘Stonehenge-like structure’ which he intends as a “place of reflection” on Achill Island.

Mr McNamara, acquitted earlier this year of criminal damage and dangerous driving over an incident where a cement lorry with the words “toxic bank” was driven at the gates of Leinster House, was asked by Mayo County Council’s planning officers last week to stop the unauthorised works but continued with them.

The council then brought proceedings against Mr McNamara (41), with addresses at Achill Island, Co Mayo and Salthill, Co Galway, and secured orders on November 26th last requiring him to cease the works.

It claimed works continued after he was served with those orders and it then initiated proceedings for attachment and committal of Mr McNamara.

After hearing from the sides yesterday, Mr Justice Roderick Murphy found Mr McNamara had continued work on the structure, an outer ring of large columns with tapping stones placed on top, despite being properly served with the order to cease those works.

The failure to comply was “a serious matter”, planning laws and regulations were in place for a good reason and were not designed to thwart people, the judge said.

As Mr McNamara was not prepared to purge his contempt, he was to remain in Mountjoy prison until next Tuesday, the judge said.

Pat Butler SC, for the council, said it was prepared to ask the court not to jail Mr McNamara if he would give an undertaking that structure would be removed within a given time period but Mr McNamara’s solicitor Declan Keane said his client was not prepared to give such an undertaking.

Earlier, Mr Butler said the council obtained an injunction last Saturday requiring Mr McNamara to stop work on a structure the nature of which remained unclear. “We still don’t know what it is,” he said.

A letter containing the order was delivered to a hotel in Achill owned by Mr McNamara last Saturday night and he was hand delivered the order around noon on the following day, counsel said.

When Mr McNamara was served on Sunday, about 24 concrete columns had been built, counsel said. The following day, Monday, November 28th last, six more columns had been erected and it was clear Mr McNamara had continued working on the site after being served with the order, Mr Butler said.

Mr McNamara opposed the council’s application on grounds including he was unaware of the contents of the order served last Sunday because he had put the envelope containing the order in the back of his jeep and had not read it until “later that night.” He apologised for his actions taken prior to reading the order and said he had carried out no further works since Sunday evening.

Mr McNamara accepted he was the owner of the hotel where the order was delivered but said he did not reside there. He had given an undertaking last Wednesday to stop working on the structure and had complied with that, he said.

He further claimed the structure, which his solicitor said was intended to be “a place of reflection” and to include an inner structure, is an exempted development within the meaning of the Planning and Development Pegulations 2001.

The judge refsued Mr Keane’s request for an adjournment to allow him apply to the Council to clarify whether or not the structure is an exempted development.

In opposing an adjournment, Mr Butler said Mr McNamara’s defence was “entirely contrived and artificial” and the council did not know what type of exemption applied to this particular structure. Under planning laws, the onus was on the developer to inform the local authority in advance if any proposed development was exempted from planning permission and that was not done, he added.

In an affidavit previously provided to the court, Iain Douglas, a senior planner with the council, said they had gone to the scene of the works on November 25th after receiving a number of complaints about excavation works. They found four excavators working on the structure at Slievemore mountain and excavation works which had been progressed to a significant extent.

During his inspection, Mr Douglas said he spoke with Mr McNamara and informed him the development was being carried out without planning permission, was unauthorised and to halt work immediately but Mr McNamara indicated he would continue working.

The works were being carried out on an area of undeveloped mountain bogland of high scenic value and located adjacent to a large archaeological site which is protected, Mr Douglas added.