Hermit 'nuns' who had established an unauthorised prayer retreat near Leap in West Cork have cleared the site, bar a wooden fence, and are to pay €1,000 in fines and legal costs to Cork County Council.
Sr Irene Gibson, who says she is a Carmelite Nun of the Holy Face of Jesus, had been convicted of a breach of Section 154 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in late 2019 in relation to an unauthorised development at Corran South near the village of Leap in West Cork.
That came after she had first established the prayer retreat in 2016 and a year after Cork County Council had first brought enforcement proceedings against her, resulting in a prosecution before Skibbereen District Court in May 2019.
In December 2019, Sr Irene and her younger colleague, New Zealander Sr Anne Marie Loeman, were given time to relocate and return the site to its original condition. The matter had been due before court in April last year but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown.
Judge James McNulty heard last September that while “significant” downsizing at the site had taken place, the women were still resident there and had had little success in their plans to relocate.
Judge McNulty had suggested at that time that they could consider relocating to a different part of the country.
But in Skibbereen District Court on Tuesday, solicitor for the local authority, Margaret Noelle O’Sullivan, said there had been “significant progress” and the site had been almost completely cleared, bar the wooden fence.
That includes removal of the last four wooden pod cells and a red storage container.
Sr Irene said she and her colleague have since moved to another site, an existing property which does not require any planning permission and where they are repairing the roof and ensuring water supply.
The minimum fine for the offence is €2,500, unless proof is provided of an inability to pay.
Sr Irene Gibson told Judge James McNulty that she had some monies in her bank account, from benefactors, and that it was not her money, adding that the funds were to build at their new location.
“I get a small income each week from the government and I am happy to pay something from that,” she said, adding that she received €200 per week.
“We are getting funds each week from benefactors and a fundraising campaign.”
Judge McNulty said: “Your benefactors might want you to put matters right, finally, as you depart this place.”
He said it was a case of “putting things right” and, in modern terms, “leave no trace”.
He said he wanted Sr Gibson to pay €1,000, comprising €500 of a fine and another €500 as contribution to the local authority’s legal costs.
Sr Gibson said she would be able to pay within a month.
The matter was adjourned until July 27 next for payment of the monies, with both sides excused from attending if the fine is paid by then.
As for the orange wooden fence the judge had commented that it was “not visually offensive or structurally obtrusive” and would be practically invisible to any passing motorists.
The council had said it was keen for that final aspect of the enforcement order to be complied with but the judge said: “I think we have come a long way. Nature will take its course. Nature will green it for us.
“If Cork County Council are so offended by the fence they can make their own arrangements.”
The judge was also told that a religious statue also remains at the site, but Philip O’Sullivan of Cork County Council, who inspected the site on Monday this week to provide the court with an update, said that statue could remain there as it had never referred to in the enforcement notice.
Sr Irene and her colleague have been engaged in a number of controversial actions, including breaking lockdown as part a group of people who took part in an exorcism of the Dáil before last Christmas.
They were also were recently ordered to remove medicinal claims about an ointment they had been selling.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) confirmed that the claims had been removed from social media about a black salve ointment which was claimed could cure "abnormal skin growths".
The pair, who have raised thousands of euro online, have also claimed they are members of what they call the ‘Carmelite Order of the Holy Face’ but a spokesperson for Bishop of Cork and Ross has said the women do not belong to any religious community which is in communion with the Catholic Church.
Neither Sr Gibson nor Sr Loeman spoke on entering or leaving the court.