CLARE Island Community Centre Ltd (CICC) must apply to Mayo County Council for planning permission if they wish to obtain a seven-day publican’s license.
That was the ruling of Judge Raymond Groarke who adjourned the application at a sitting of Clifden Circuit Civil Court last week. The hearing was attended by up to 50 islanders, many of whom had also travelled to an earlier sitting in Castlebar on Monday, July 18.
Objections to the community centre application were formally made by Chris O’Grady, proprietor of The Bayview Hotel, and Jim and Ann Cox, who plan to develop a ten-bedroom lodge with a bar and activities centre.
The committee of CICC applied for a seven-day publican’s licence because they felt their current club licence was restrictive. They argued that because there is no publican’s licence on the island and no venue to host large functions such as weddings or island festivals, a publican’s licence would be beneficial to island tourism.
However, planning matters relating to the building were raised during the hearing, which led Judge Groarke to conclude he could not rule on the application until such matters were resolved.
Judge Groarke adjourned the application, to allow the applicants, if they so wished, to apply to the planning authority for planning permission to use the centre as a licensed premises.
He said if they got planning permission they could reapply for the licence but warned he would not allow the matter to drag on.
BOTH objectors claimed they were objecting because the laws of the club licence were being ignored and also for commercial reasons. They said they were currently in the process of applying for a publican’s licence for their respective premises.
The suitability of the centre to hold a publican’s licence was also raised with claims that the building did not have the necessary planning permission to obtain a licence.
Evidence was given by Ms Ann Dennehy, an architect employed by Mr Cox. She claimed the building was not built in accordance with the plans approved by Mayo County Council and was not suitable for a publican’s licence. She said the floor area was enlarged and the bar was enlarged from 30.61 square metres to 52 square metres.
Daniel Moran, a Chartered Surveyor and Frank Kenny, a Planning Consultant employed by the CICC had earlier explained that the development would be described as ‘excepted development’ and the net affect of the variations to the plans was ‘nil’. They both said it was in accordance with planning permission and was suitable for a publican’s licence.
However, Ms Dennehy said in her opinion it was not ‘excepted’ and she would insist on it going back to the local authority for planning permission even though she accepted the time for complaints had elapsed.
She added that a letter by the applicant on the planning file stated that when the bar area would be used, they would transfer a licence from another pub for the occasion.
Reasons for the application
MS Constance Cassidy, SC for the CICC, explained that the majority of the islanders adult population had signed a petition in favour of the new licence for the centre. She said the island depended on tourism and the last publican’s licence was sold off the island when McCabe’s pub ceased trading in 1999. She added that since Mr O’Grady’s hotel was damaged by fire in 2006, the centre is currently the only place on the island where tourists can get a drink.
However, she said their current club licence was restrictive with visitors having to be ‘signed in’ by a member and only one function allowed every year. She said as a result they could not accommodate weddings or such events as the All-Islands Football Championships.
The court heard that the Community Centre was built in the late 1990’s and as well as the bar, it also contains an indoor sports-hall, which also serves as a function room; a library, a laundry service, a kitchen, pre-school facilities, showers facilities, and is used by different organisations on the island.
Brendan O’Leary, Chairperson of CICC, explained that they have raised €85,000 through a €50,000 bank loan and fundraising to buy the pub licence. He said that revenue raised by the publican’s licence would be invested back into the centre and used to fund the different services.
Citing the restrictive nature of the license, he said: “The President visited in 2009 to launch the [Royal Irish] Academy survey which was a very big event but we had to close the bar when the president was on the premises. We made a meal for her but we couldn’t even give her a glass of wine.”
When asked by Judge Raymond Groarke if they could not have signed her in, Mr O’Leary said that even if they did sign her in, they could not have alcohol in the hall where the function meal was served.
IN giving reasons for objecting to the application, Mr O’Grady said he plans to turn his hotel into a hostel and objects to a building, granted-aided by taxpayers money, in competition with him.
He said since the centre has obtained a club licence it has operated as an ‘open-door pub’ and has no regard for the conditions of the licence, and that is why he objects every year to the renewal of the club licence.
He explained he has been in business for over 40 years and admitted to difficulties operating the licensing laws because it was difficult ‘to get people out’ when there are no gardaí.
The court heard he is in the process of obtaining a publican’s licence for his hostel. Mr O’Grady also admitted, when questioned, that since he has been in business he had no legal authority to operate a bar because he only held a hotel licence.
Mr John Jordan, BL for Mr O’Grady said it was fundamentally undesirable for a community centre to become a public house and under the terms of the application the entire building, including the library and toilets, would be licenced.
Mr O’Leary gave an undertaking that no alcohol would be consumed in the library and the bar would not be open if children were using the centre. He also gave an undertaking that they would comply with the law on opening hours and would limit the number of functions, which would conclude at 2am, to 15 per year.
Mr O’Leary also disagreed that they continually allow after-hour drinking and let non-members drink without signing in.
‘A Leopard doesn’t change its spots’
MR Jim Cox gave his evidence at the Clifden sitting. He explained he moved to Clare Island on July 2 last and plans to build a house on the island. A native of Galway who lived in New York since 1986, he said he has already spent €500,000 on his project and expects to spend €2.8 in total, employing 16 people once it is completed.
He said if the community centre received a publican’s licence he would probably not go ahead with the project because he felt he could not compete with a taxpayer-funded entity.
When asked by his counsel, Mr Eoin Garavan if he drank in the community centre, he said he had drank in it on 40 occasions and ‘most of the time’ drank until 3am. He claimed the same practice would continue if they got a publican’s licence because a ‘leopard doesn’t change its spots’.
Mr Cox also accused some of the islanders in court of regularly engaging in after-hours drinking and had to be reminded by Judge Groarke that if he intended to live on Clare Island he should ‘not make remarks about your neighbours’.
Mr Donal O’Shea, the island Development Officer, explained that Mr Cox was renting his apartment on the island while he (Mr O’Shea) recuperates from illness. He said he first met Mr Cox at an island enterprise seminar and claimed he ‘fell in love with the island’.
When asked what he thought of the centre’s application, Mr O’Shea said he felt the two businesses needed all the tourism business they could get and felt the club licence was sufficient for the members’ needs.
Mr Gerry Woods, brother-in-law of Mr O’Grady, also gave evidence on behalf of Mr Cox. He said his was the closest house to the centre and claimed he often had to move bedrooms because of late night noise. He claimed that extra functions would mean more sleepless nights.
‘Lifeblood of Community’
CONCLUDING, Judge Groarke acknowledged that life cannot be easy living on Clare Island and praised the voluntary enterprise of the community, which he said was the ‘lifeblood of a community’.
He said there were four main grounds for objecting to a publican’s licence and while he found there was ‘copious evidence’ that the club licence was not being adhered to, he was parking those grounds of objections.
When he outlined the functions of the community centre he said it was ‘truly a community centre’ and the proposition put to him was that the seven-day licence would be another ancillary business of the community centre.
Judge Groarke said it seemed to him that when the plans for the centre were being drawn up, the local authority never contemplated the premises would have been used as ‘a licenced premises of any sort, club or seven-day licence’.
However, he said if they were successful, the entire premises would be licensed and would involve fundamental alternations to the use and purpose of the building. He said if he came to the conclusion the pub would be another ancillary business he would be ‘engaging in fiction’ before adjourning the application.