Soup kitchen operator warned he may face jail

Oliver Williams in his new Twist Soup Kitchen in Ennis, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Oliver Williams in his new Twist Soup Kitchen in Ennis, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward

A local authority has told the operator of a network of soup kitchens that he could face a six-month prison term or a large fine if convicted of operating an unauthorised soup kitchen in Ennis.

In a warning letter issued to Co Galway man Oliver Williams, Ennis Town Council has told him that his soup kitchen operating at St Flannan’s Terrace, Clonroad Beg, Ennis, is unauthorised as it does not have planning permission.

The council has told Mr Williams that if he is convicted in the courts of carrying out the unauthorised development, he faces a prison term up to six months or a fine of up to €12,697.

The move by the council follows opposition to Mr Williams’s soup kitchen in the residential area.

Last Monday, Mr Williams opened up the Twist soup kitchen and was quickly confronted by local residents angry at the lack of consultation by Mr Williams before opening the kitchen.

At Ennis Town Council’s September meeting, councillors backed residents concerns calling on town manager Ger Dollard to take action to enforce the planning laws at the site.

Now, in the warning letter issued, the council has called on Mr Williams to regularise the matter, otherwise the council may issue an enforcement notice.

Mr Williams yesterday confirmed he had received the warning letter: “I don’t wish to upset anyone and I will be making a decision next week as to whether to seek planning permission for the kitchen or to seek an alternative site.”

On the prospect of jail raised in the letter, Mr Williams said: “We are going to comply with the regulations. We are not going to go against the system.”

Mr Williams said there is a demand for a soup kitchen in Ennis — the kitchen in Ennis is the seventh that Mr Williams has opened with the network currently serving 2,500 meals per week.

Mr Williams already operates soup kitchens at Roscommon, Galway city, Sligo, Loughrea, Athlone and Tuam and has plans to open three more at Drogheda, Kildare and Mullingar.

Mr Williams receives no State funding and the soup kitchens operate through regular food donations from food companies and a group of volunteers operating the kitchens.

A spokesman for the local residents in Ennis, Sean Doyle said yesterday that the residents welcome the council issuing the warning letter.

He said: “We recognise that Mr Williams is doing a good deed and kudos to him for the charitable work, but if he had gone about it the right way in Ennis and went through the proper channels, residents would have been a lot more welcoming.”

Asked if residents would be opposing any planning application lodged by Mr Williams for a soup kitchen at the site, Mr Doyle said: “Yes we would — on the grounds that it would attract an unsocial element to the area and the fear and worry it would create amongst older residents.”

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