AN unemployed widower who broke planning laws by building two dormer windows in his home has been jailed for six months.
Harold O'Toole (56) will spend Christmas in Limerick prison after he refused to remove the small windows from the top of his home at Beechwood Drive, Ballycoskery, Ballyhea, Co Cork.
Last night, his children, Caroline (31), Harold (29), Jenny (21) and Leaving Cert student Cathy (18), told the Irish Independent they were trying to comprehend why he will not be with them for the holidays.
His only son, Harold Jnr, travelled home from the Dominican Republic for the hearing.
"I am shocked by it because it doesn't seem as bad as other things that are going on out there," the son said.
"The dormer windows were put up illegally, but I can't see how you could justify putting a man in jail for that."
Last week in Kilmallock District Court, the widower told Judge Mary Larkin and Cork County Council planning officials that he could not afford to take out the windows.
The long-running dispute with the council dates back to 2006 when Mr O'Toole breached planning guidelines.
The matter came to a head in court.
Ronan MacKernan, executive planner with the council, said he visited the home last week and the dormer windows remain in place.
"In 2006, we received a complaint from the public," he said.
"Mr O'Toole applied to convert his attic and put projecting dormer windows on the front and back of it.
"Cork County Council gave planning permission for the dormer windows at the back, but to omit them from the front," Mr MacKernan said.
"Despite repeated warnings and considerable goodwill by the council extended to him to remove the dormer windows, he hasn't.
"He stated to me on a number of occasions he had no intention of removing the windows," Mr MacKernan added.
A legal enforcement order to take out the windows was made in 2009.
Judge Mary Larkin said he had been "deliberately walking around this (issue) for six years".
She jailed him for six months and fined him a total of €3,000 for not complying with the enforcement order to remove the windows and also awarded costs of €2,726 against him.
Eldest daughter Caroline O'Toole said she was in shock.
"He is going to be in prison for Christmas and his birthday is Christmas Eve as well," she said.
"He'll also be locked up for my mother's anniversary in February," Ms O'Toole added.
Her brother Harold said the family were extremely upset.
"He's not a well man, he suffers awful from depression and I reckon it has taken an awful toll on him.
"My parents worked hard for years, they were one of the first people in the neighbourhood to pay off that council house.
"The reason why he built those dormers was probably out of boredom when he was trying to deal with the loss of our mother.
"He lost his job not long after my mother died and he has always been a very active man," Harold said.
"I would appeal to them (Cork County Council) to drop the case."