A MAN operating two tourist hostel/guesthouses in Wexford town is to serve two weeks in prison for contempt of court over failing to have the premises vacated over fire safety concerns.
The High Court heard today that despite an undertaking by Brian Gilhooly last September, and despite court orders since August 8, the premises at 43 Abbey Street Lower and 38 William Street continued to be offered to guests through three websites during August.
Guests had stayed there during August and September, Wexford Co. Council's Chief Fire Officer, Maria Melia, told the court,
Mr Gilhooly had on September 19 last given a personal undertaking not to use the properties as overnight guest accommodation but she saw lights in the premises that same evening and two days later spoke to a couple who were tourists and said they had stayed at the property from September 8 and were booked to stay until September 14.
That couple had said they had spoken to the owner and were aware of the closure notices concerning the property.
Ms Melia said she was also concerned the premises appeared to have no staff on site and persons staying there are provided with a combination code to access keys stored in a combination locked container attached to the outside of both premises. That arrangement increased the fire safety risk to guests, she believed.
Ms Melia said she remains of the view the premises posed a serious fire safety risk to anyone staying there until fire safety works were carried out. While the fire service was reluctant to see Mr Gilhooly jailed, it had to take all necessary steps to seek compliancer with the court orders.
Mr Justice Brian McGovern yesterday told Mr Gilhooly, of Hillcrest, Mulgannon, Wexford, the committal to prison order would take effect from midday tomorrow.
If Mr Gilhooly did not report to gardai at Wexford garda station at that time, he would issue a warrant for his arrest, the judge added.
The judge refused a request by Mr Gilhooly, representing himself, for an adjournment of the application by Wexford County Council for his committal. There was no basis for an adjournment and evidence from the council, represented by Dylan Redmond BL, showed Mr Gilhooly had breached his undertaking, he said.
The case arose after a member of the public made a complaint to the Wexford fire authority on July 12 last that the premises were being used as guest house/hostel accommodation without any or any adequate fire safety measures.
A senior fire officer who inspected both premises the following day found they failed to comply with fire safety regulations and posed a risk to persons staying there.
Mr Gilhooly was informed of those findings and gave a written undertaking not to use the premises for overnight guest accommodation and to vacate them, Ms Melia said.
On July 16, he confirmed the premises had been closed and he was seeking the assistance of a fire safety consultant.
On August 1, the fire service learned the premises were still being used as guest house/hostel accommodation and a number of tourists were due to stay there, Ms Melia said. Closure notices were served.
On August 6, she became aware the premises were still being used as guesthouse/hostel accommodation and that same day met Mr Gilhooly coming out of the William Street premises.
He refused her access to that premises or to confirm if he had removed the closure notices. Copies of the notices were posted on the front doors but had been removed by the next day after which the Council took court proceedings.