A plan to build a toilet in a local church is causing disquiet among some parishioners who claim that the design is unsuitable and takes away from the character of the historic church.
Last month, An Bord Pleanala gave the go-ahead to proposals to install toilet facilities in the ‘west porch’ of Ballingarry parish church. The design by architect Michael Healy would see part of the former mortuary area of the church transformed into a bathroom.
The original decision to grant planning permission had been appealed by local resident Tim Noonan of Ballyelan, who cited concerns over the impact the development would have on the character of the church as well as difficulties in accessing the church via what is now the main door.
However, despite the failure of his appeal, Mr Noonan still wants local parish priest Fr Dan Lane to reconsider the plans. A number of other local people have also contacted the Leader to express their opposition to the construction of a toilet in the church, which was built between 1872 and 1879
Mr Noonan claimed that the former mortuary door, which was part of the original design by the architect JJ McCarthy, was almost a foot wider than what is now the main entrance to the church.
“One of the main concerns the parishioners have is a health and safety issue which has been ignored. When there is a funeral, family and friends struggle to get coffins in and out of the narrow doorway and up two steps,” Mr Noonan explained.
The mortuary door was replaced by a stained glass window in 1991, but Mr Noonan and others who have contacted the Leader on the issue, want it replaced and reinstated as the main entrance to the church.
“I have been approached by regular church users requesting a petition to be signed, to express their disapproval of the location of this toilet. I have already 25 letters from concerned parishioners which I sent to An Bord Pleanala,” he said.
Mr Noonan also pointed out that, as the parent of a wheelchair user, he believed the toilet should be put somewhere more discreet, such as in the small car park to the right of the church. “My son is the only regular wheelchair user of Ballingarry church and doesn’t want to be seen by everyone entering and leaving the toilet,” he said.
However, Fr Lane insisted that he was not aware of any widespread issues with the plans that have been drawn up by Healy and Partners Architects.
He pointed out that, of six possible options that were explored, the final design was the only feasible solution to the problem of providing toilet facilities.
He also stressed that he and the parish finance committee had continuously invited consultation with parishioners throughout the design process.
“We couldn’t have been more open about the thing. At every step of the way, we invited people to come and talk to us about it ” he said, adding that this invitation had been repeatedly included in weekly parish bulletins since last August when the plans were being drawn up.
He also emphasised that this was not his own “pet project” but had “100% support of the parish finance committee”.
“The finance committee are broadly representative of the parish and they are totally in support of it,” he said.