A property development company is challenging a decision to refuse it planning permission for a large housing development in the Waterford Gaeltacht, despite objections by local residents who claim it will undermine official attempts to preserve the linguistic and cultural heritage of the area.
Shinebright has lodged an appeal with An Bord Pleanála against the recent decision of Waterford City and County Council to reject its plans for a development of 46 houses outside An Rinn (Ring).
The company, which has a registered address in Wilton, Cork, has proposed the construction of the houses on a 3.3 hectare site at Maoil a’Choirne (Mweelahorna) on the Ring peninsula.
In refusing planning permission, the council claimed the scale of the proposed development is in excess of what is required to meet the needs of the indigenous Irish-speaking population in the area.
It ruled that the development would be likely to have an adverse effect on the Irish language and culture of what it described as a “linguistically vulnerable Gaeltacht area.”
Council planners also said the project would be premature given existing deficiencies in the wastewater network in An Rinn which are unlikely to be addressed before late 2026.
They also criticised the layout and design of the proposed development as well as the poor sightlines from the public road which would potentially pose a traffic hazard.
A linguistic impact statement provided by Shinebright was deemed as “not sufficiently robust or grounded in information” to support its contention that the development would not have a negative impact on the Irish language or culture of An Rinn.
“The lack of affordable and social housing within Gaeltacht na nDéise is a critical problem and may be the single most challenging threat to the continued survival of this community,” the official stated.
Ms Breathnach claimed the Waterford Gaeltacht and Irish language levels within the community were under pressure “from the pervasive influence of the English language.”
Sinn Féin councillor, Conor McGuinness, who lives in An Rinn, said local people were not opposed to houses being built in the area as there was an urgent need for more homes to meet local demand.
However, Mr McGuinness, who works as a language planning officer for Gaeltacht na nDéise, said it was obvious that the Shinebright development was not aimed at a demand coming from people within the Gaeltacht area.
“The majority of the houses will be sold to people who have no connection with the area,” said Mr McGuinness.
He pointed out that research showed that a Gaeltacht community is at risk when the number of people speaking Irish on a daily basis falls below 67%.
A language plan for the area produced by local development company, Comhlucht Forbartha na nDéise, estimated the figure was as low as 27% in 2016.
The development is also opposed by Fianna Fáil senator, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, a fluent Irish speaker based in Dublin, whose grandparents come from the area.
However, Shinebright claims its proposal represents a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to provide affordable homes for local people wanting to stay in the area.
Another property company, Blackwater Properties, which unsuccessfully sought planning permission in 2007 to build 49 new homes on the site claimed linguistic conditions imposed by the council were unconstitutional and discriminatory.
An Bord Pleanála is due to issue its ruling on the current appeal by the end of January.