Did the councillors get the planning business wrong?

A chara, Máirtín Ó Cathán's colourful report (It's a long day's journey into the night as the Councillors finally calve), in last week's edition, on the marathon meeting of Galway County Council made for entertaining reading. He reports that it was "after one in the morning" and that "councillors may have been misinterpreting a littie" when the provisions for protecting Irish in the Gaeltacht though use of language conditions were, as his report states, "watered down".

However, I am a bit confused about the new provisions and how the changes made with regard to language conditions will affect the planning process. Let's take two very different kind of Gaeltacht areas which will be affected by the changes: Claregalway and An Cheathrú Rua. I will deal with each in turn.

1. Claregalway: The amendment to the plan states clearly that in areas "where less than 20% of the population speak Irish on a daily basis" there will be no language condition imposed on planning permissions. About time too. In my opinion it was ridiculous of Galway County Council Language to be imposing language conditions in areas such as Claregalway, where Irish has effectively died out as a community language. They were trying to protect something that wasn't there.

But I am concerned at the interpretation of this amendment by the Minister responsible for the Gaeltacht. When speaking on Adhmhaidin (RnaG) last Friday the Minister, Éamonn Ó Cuív T.D., had this to say about the changes. "Beidh sé i bhfad níos deacra anois ceadanna pleanála a thabhairt in aiteacha cosúil le Baile Chlár n Gaillimhe na mar a bhí cheana." (It wilI be much more difficult to grant planning permissions in places like Claregalway than it had been previously).

As I understand it the basis of the Minister's deduction is that since it will not be possible to attach language conditions to developments in Claregalway, it will be more difficuit to satisfy the requirement in Section 10.9 of the Development Plan that developments have to be "beneficial to the useage of the language in the area, if permitted".

In other words the Minister seems to be suggesting that Galway County Council will have to refuse planning permissions for estates of houses in places like Claregalway since they will notI be able to attach language conditions any more. I don't believe for a minute that's going to happen but I can appreciate the logic to it.

2. An Cheathrú Rua: The amendment also states taht the "Language Enurement Clause will be applied to a proportion of houses (in housing developments of two or more houses) inside the GTPS boundry. The GTPS is the commuter belt which extends to about 25km from the city. An Ceathrú Rua is not in the GTPS as clearly defined in Table 2.2 of the County Development Plan [page 18].

On RnaG on the morning of the late night sessionj, Councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig explained that the language condition would remain in use west of the city in the area from Bearna as far as An Ceathrú Rua. These are his exact words: "Beidh an coinníoll i bhfeidhm sna ceantair siar ó Ghaillimh, siar comh fada leis an gCeathrú Rua agus an Ceathrú Rua san áireamh."

But if An Ceathrú Rua is outside of the GTPS area, how can it be included in the area where language conditions apply, if the amendment as adopted stipulates that language conditions will not apply outside the GTPS. Is it possible that due to the late hour, the councillors have dispensed with language conditions on all future estates to be built in An Cheathr9e Rua, without realising it?

Assuming there is some logic in what Minister Éamonn Ó Cuív was saying about Claregalway, then the same logic can be applied to An Cheathi Rua and Carna. Up to now it was possible for the Planning Authority to satisfy the statutory obligation to protect Irish by imposing language conditions in these areas. That flexibility has been unwittingly removed from the Development Plan by the councillors and instead of making it easier to grant planning permissions for schemes of houses in places like An Cheathrú Rua, Cama or Leitir Móir - which I believe was the intention - the opposite could be the result.

It seems that united front of the Connemara Councillors have been wrong footed badly. Maybe they were foolhardy in not following the advice of the council officials and the Priomhfheidhmeannach of Údarás na Gaeltachta, who cautioned against rushing on this one and advised that the matter be dealt with in the forthcoming Area Plan for the Galway Gaeltacht, a draft of will be available within a month or two.

By making too much haste in stealth, they seemed to have tripped themselves up and added to the confusion.

Ádh mór

Donncha Ó hÉallaithe,
Gaillimh. donncha.oheallaithe@gmit.ie

Cúradh Chonnachtach 4/8/2006