Shebeens ‘all over the place’ in Westmeath

Shebeens are operating “all over the place” in Mullingar, according to Cllr Mick Dollard.

Speaking during a broader discussion at the September meeting of Westmeath County Council on the lack of planning enforcement in the county due to what the council say is a shortage of staff, Cllr Dollard said that “since the advent of Covid” illegal drinking dens, or shebeens, have been opened in a number of Mullingar estates. These unlicensed premises, often located at the back of people’s homes in buildings that were built without planning permission, need to be shut down, he says.

“People are having parties and they are ending up in rows. Recently there was an arson attack in a quiet residential area.”

The veteran councillor said that if Westmeath County Council “wants to be taken seriously… we have to have planning enforcement”.

Cllr John Dolan, who submitted a motion on the issue, said that when it comes to illegal developments in Westmeath, it is “open season”.

The Fine Gael councillor said that he knows of at least seven breaches of planning legislation in the Athlone area.

He added that he and other councillors are being contacted by members of the public who are growing frustrated that the council aren’t enforcing planning regulations. While he acknowledged that councils across the country are struggling to recruit staff for their planning departments and that the current staff are doing their best, the council need to devote more resources to solving the problem.

“Why aren’t we enforcing this? I am not going to tell them that we don’t have the staff; I am going to tell them that staff are not being resourced in the areas they should be.”

Cllr Dolan added that the “message is out there, why would you bother applying for planning”, when you can apply for retention when the work is completed.

Cllr Ken Glynn said that he was “surprised” that the lack of enforcement wasn’t on the agenda before.

“It’s hugely frustrating. I do think that the staff there do work extraordinarily hard and feel for them. It’s clear they are stretched due to a lack of staffing. I do recognise that the executive is trying to resolve the issue, but we need to see action.”

Cllr Denis Leonard said that when it comes to planning, it is like a “tale of two cities”.

On the one hand you have people who go through the planning procedure, which is costly and can take two or three years, while on the other hand there are those who “build completely illegal developments” who then apply for planning retention, which goes through quickly.

Cllr Louise Heavin said that the council “needs to be targeting tight timelines” for the issuing of enforcement notices and inspections.

“We need to have inspections within days and letters within a week.” She added that people who “abide by the rules” need to see the council “clamp down” on those who don’t.

The cathaoirleach, Cllr Liam McDaniel, praised Cllr Dolan for being “brave enough” to raise the issue. He also wondered how those who build illegal developments are getting water and electrical connections without evidence of complying with planning regulations.