Plans lodged to turn former Offaly convent into rehab unit

Camilla McLoughlin

Reporter:

Camilla McLoughlin

Plans lodged to turn former Offaly convent into rehab unit

PLANS to turn the former Convent of Mercy in Kilcormac into a rehabilitation unit for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction is causing controversy among many locals there.

Laois Offaly TD Carol Nolan, has added her name to a number of submissions to Offaly county council, objecting to the plans.

Serenity Home is the company behind the proposal. The company's principal activity is described as ''providing residential care activities for mental retardation, mental health, and substance abuse.''

In her submission, Deputy Nolan said she has been contacted by residents and people living in the locality who feel ''the proposed location in the middle of Kilcormac town is wholly unsuitable. She said she shares this concern as ''many drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres are located outside towns, one example being Cuain Mhuire in Athy, Co Kildare.''

She said the proposed location is far too close to homes, a play school and a number of pubs in the town, which ''I would imagine wouldn't be good, appropriate or fair for people suffering from and trying to overcome alcohol addiction,'' she said.

The independent deputy said it's her understanding that this rehabilitation centre will have services which will encompass other addictions apart from drug and alcohol addictions and this is also ''very concerning and unacceptable to the local people of Kilcormac who have contacted my offices with their legitimate concerns.''

In addition she has complained about the ''lack of consultation'' with the people of Kilcormac and what she termed the ''blatant lack of both transparency and respect for the local residents of Kilcormac''.

In another submission, Irene Reams said the former convent is a ''protected structure'' and should be used sensitively.'' She continues, ''there is nothing sensitive about a rehabilitation unit. ''

In relation to clients using the proposed unit, Ms Reams argues that if they [clients] relapse ''it should be noted that ''Kilcormac is high up on the list of easy to get drugs towns in Offaly. They will be made available at the gate if they want them. When they relapse they are refused entry into the facility. Where do they go...they are left on the street to possibly add to the already anti-social behaviour that is in our town. They may sleep in the church, which brings concerns of its own if they light up a cigarette, fall asleep in there and a fire starts,'' she claims that ''priceless artefacts '' are at risk.

Downey Planning on behalf of their client Jonathan Buckley, has also lodged an objection as they say there is insufficient information regarding both the proposed use, the hours of operation and the necessary building works required for such a use. They say the location is lacking in vital services and is wholly unsuited to a rehabilitation centre.

Other objections relate to the limited number of gardai in the town along with claims that it takes 12 minutes for the fire service to respond to a call. In addition objectors say there is no 24-hour doctor available in the town.

The group called 'Concerned Residents' are objecting on the grounds that it will overlook private residential property, open onto the church grounds. Its close proximity to the playschool. Its proximity to the town park and children's playground and its proximity to four pubs.

The group say they are not objecting to a Rehabilitation Centre just the location of this one.

The group claim that: ''If this goes through and they [Serenity Home] are granted planning permission for a rehabilitation centre they can then sell it on to anyone providing rehabilitation services. ''Rehabilitation covers more than drugs and alcohol. Great idea but wrong location,'' they add.

Offaly county council will make its decision known on October 18.