GOD might need to act faster to find two nuns a new home after a case in which a nun was found guilty of breaches of planning law in County Cork, a judge has observed.
The nun, a Carmelite hermit of the Holy Face of Jesus, Sister Irene Gibson, aged 61, appeared at Skibbereen District Court together with the recently professed Sister Anne Marie, 21, from New Zealand, before Justice James McNulty, on proceedings brought by Cork County Council. Sister Irene had erected a wooden chapel, several “pods” that appeared to be garden sheds, and another structure on lands at Leap, in west Cork.
The court heard that Sister Irene had failed to comply with an enforcement notice under Section 154 of the Planning and Development Act. She entered a plea of not guilty.
Before proceedings continued, Judge McNulty said that, despite his respect for all faiths, Sister Irene was directed by him to remove a statute of the Infant of Prague from the courtroom, which they had carried into the building with them. “This is not the place for holy statues,” he said.
A solicitor for the County Council, Patricia Murphy, said that the local authority had taken the case to court with great reluctance, and only after every option had been explored. An official from the planning department of the council, Philip O’Sullivan, said that he called at the site a day before the court hearing, and some of the structures had been removed, including one which local residents had been “apoplectic” about. He said that he was met at the site by a person whom he took to be a nun, who was not before the court, and who was “verbally abusive”.
Mr O’Sullivan said that the pods, which were being used by the nuns to sleep in, were not fit for habitation. “Sometimes, people have to be saved from themselves,” he said.
Sister Anne-Marie, who acted as a witness for the defendant, said that the sheds had no electrical power, running water, or sanitation. She said that anyone who considered the structures as other than temporary would either need a great imagination or “unreasonable ill will”, and she regarded the council’s action as cold-hearted and bureaucratic, calling them “vindictive and petty tyrants”.
Sister Irene said that she had received several warning letters, but was living a life of prayer and did not have the time to study what she described as “county council law”.
The court also heard that the Sisters were offered accommodation in Youghal, Co. Cork, and it was hoped that they could move there for Christmas.
Convicting Sister Irene, Justice McNulty said that the council had not acted in any way improperly, and he deferred sentencing until April so that the nuns could have a chance to establish a new home. He told the Sisters that he was a strong believer in God as a good provider, but said: “He may need to hurry up. You may need to pray harder, Sister.”