JUDGE James McNulty has given two nuns until June 2021 to find alternative accommodation and to leave the site where they have set up, without planning permission, a religious retreat in Leap.
Sister Irene Gibson, who says she belongs to the ‘Carmelites of the Holy Face’ order, was convicted in December 2019 of breaching the Planning and Development Act following an unauthorised development at a site at Corran, Leap.
Sister Irene set up a prayer retreat at the site in 2016 without planning permission, and was ordered by the court to return the site to its original state and to vacate it.
At Skibbereen District Court on Tuesday, Judge McNulty heard that while a number of buildings at the site had been removed, the two nuns were still in residence.
Sister Irene told the court that they had removed all the structures, except three pods, which are in fact garden sheds which the nuns sleep and cook in, and that there was also a shipping container with their personal effects.
The nuns confirmed that they had removed a chapel, which a number of holiday home owners had objected to.
Sister Irene also told the court that an offer of accommodation in East Cork had not materialised and that the two nuns were currently looking for a property in West Cork.
‘We have looked a long time around the area and I have found very many empty homes. I have written to the owners to see if we could purchase these at low cost and either have received no reply, or negative replies,’ Sister Irene told Judge McNulty.
She added that she was confident that they would find a suitable property if given another 12 months. Noting the property prices in the area where the sisters wish to remain, Judge McNulty said that perhaps they should look at Leitrim or Mayo, where prices are much lower.
However, Sister Irene told the court that as her community was not affiliated with the mainstream church, and that they only attend the Latin Tridentine Mass they must remain within the area to attend a local Tridentine Mass once a week.
‘While the court is respectful of your faith, this is not an excuse for you and your fellow colleagues in the order to go and break the civil law,’ Judge McNulty said.
Sister Irene said that they had a property in mind, but that they needed more time.
Judge McNulty also suggested that the housing department at Cork County Council should look into the matter.
‘The Council’s planning authority has a job to do, but so does the housing authority. Winter is coming and this is not a great place for two chaste women who have chosen the religious life to live in isolation in poor accommodation,’ Judge McNulty said.
The Judge then adjourned the case until June 22nd 2021 and suggested once more that the two nuns should consider his advice to relocate to a less expensive area.