TWO and a half years after the HSE sparking outrage by removing a 'Christ the King' statue from the roof of Killarney Community Hospital, An Bord Pleanála has finally ruled that the move was consistent with proper planning.
The decision though could be subject to a judicial review following claims by a local councillor that there was a lack of supporting evidence in the finding.
In a close-run decision, An Bord Pleanála was at pains to point out that its verdict required a casting vote from the chairman over its decision making process.
This will be of little solace, though, to many in the community who opposed the move in March 2010 to remove the statue - donated by the founding order - from the roof of the hospital and place it at ground level.
In December, The Kerryman reported how the HSE had spent over €10,000 defending its decision to relocate the 70-year-old statue on health and safety grounds.
Following a lengthy planning process in which An Bord Pleanála was called upon on two separate occasions, the appeals board eventually supported the health executive's actions. Last week the board ruled that the relocation had not unduly interfered with or detracted from the overall character and use of the hospital.
Planning concerns had been raised by Cllr Donal Grady - acting in a personal capacity - who asked if the HSE should have first sought planning permission. Following the decision, the councillor said the board lacked backbone, adding that the decision could undergo a judicial review as conclusions reached were contradictory and lacked clear vidence.
"It seems that An Bord Pleanála is afraid to take on the State," the councillor stated.
"I'm still calling for it to be put back and that applies to other medical facilities where crosses and statues have been removed.
"If you read between the lines, there really is no health and safety issue here. The inspector sidesteps the sensitivities of residents in the town. It is a simple land use decision that has been made and therefore it contradicts what An Bord Pleanála ruled previously."
The matter was before An Bord Pleanala as the HSE had appealed Killarney Town Council's decision to uphold a previous Pleanála ruling stating that its actions were not exempted development.
In making its appeal, the HSE said the building was not a protected structure and referred to a previous decision by Killarney Town Council who had stated that planning had not been required.
The council came in for particular criticism in the appeal, with the HSE pointing outo the inconsistency and claiming that it had limited regard for its Town Development Plan, particularly on social inclusion provisions.
While raising concerns over health and safety, the health executive admitted that no report had stated that there was a significant risk but referred to a history of subsidence at the building.
The council, meanwhile, said it was only prudent to have regard to the Board's direction in relation to the Section 5 referral. It claimed that the HSE had tried to downplay the considerable influence of the Sisters of Mercy and argued that the HSE had offered no argument as to why the relocation was contrary to the Council's Social Inclusion policy.
The local authority also stated that a large metal enclosure for a gas tank, erected adjacent to the statue, cast doubt over HSE claims that the memory of the religious order had been preserved in an appropriate manner.
The board eventually ruled that the statue's relocation had not seriously injured the amenities of the area and ordered the HSE to impliment comprehensive landscaping around the statue.
Meanwhile, the HSE's application to build a single storey entrance lobby and ramp at the main entrance was rejected on the grounds that it would detract from the facade of the building.
In addition to Cllr Grady, observers included Tomás Ó Luanaigh and Michael & Trinette Larkin.