County councillors have voted to prosecute the owners of an historic house in Co Cork, claiming they failed to secure the protected structure which was severely damaged during an arson attack.
However, Cork County Council chief executive Tim Lucey said that while he would take on board their request, what action, if any, he would take against the owners of Mount Vernon would depend on the local authority’s own legal advice.
The motion to seek a prosecution was tabled at a meeting in County Hall by Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton who also sought information on what notices the council had previously served on the owners to protect the property in Douglas.
Ms D’Alton said local authorities needed to send out a signal that owners of such houses had a legal obligation to protect them under Section 58 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
“An Taisce has listed some 100 protected structures on its buildings at risk register,” she said. “Nine of these are in the Cork County Council jurisdictional area. One was Vernon Mount. The serious fire damage to Vernon Mount highlights the continuing failure of Irish planning legislation to enforce the maintenance of legally protected historic buildings.”
She said she commended the council for repairing the roof of Vernon Mount in 2012 and 2014. The council itself spent €169,000 on the repairs after serving notices in both those years for the owners to carry out works.
“The condition of Vernon Mount had been significantly deteriorating, not just since 1997, when it was purchased by its current owners, but since the 1960s and 70s,” said Ms D’Alton.
“The citizens of this county place their trust in Cork County Council as the planning authority to ensure such owners or occupiers observe their responsibility. By not enforcing their powers under Section 59 of the act, the reality is that Cork County Council is reneging on that trust.”
Ms D’Alton said a prosecution would demonstrate the council’s commitment to and appreciation of Ireland’s protected structures and convey to owners and occupiers of all other protected structures the need to uphold their societal responsibility.
Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Rose Desmond agreed and said some owners were neglecting their responsibilities “because they don’t see any enforcement coming down the tracks”.
Sinn Féin councillor Eoghan Jeffers said taking prosecutions would show that owners would not be allowed to let protected buildings deteriorate.
Fine Gael councillor Deirdre Forde said she had previously proposed the council buy the house and turn it into a civic centre.
Mr Lucey said: “We actually went in there ourselves and spent €169,000 on it. Whether we’d act on the motion I’m not sure. The most effective way is to work with property owners. We have a very strong record on working on protected structures.
“The advancement of legal proceedings will be based on our own legal advice. It will be a decision of the executive of the council.”
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