Gardaí initially gave project green light after receiving letter of support from Fianna Fáil’s John Lahart
Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart wrote a letter to gardaí supporting a couple building a home extension during Level 5 lockdown, only for it to backfire with a halt called to the work.
Gardaí, who initially gave the green light, were forced to shut the site down days later after it emerged the work was not essential.
The Rathfarnham couple began to extend their house before Level 5 restrictions and approached the Dublin South West TD seeking a letter of support so they could weatherproof their property by having windows installed.
But the next-door neighbour became concerned when the builders turned up and continued work. He contacted gardaí who told him the work was essential and they had a letter from a local representative to support it.
On Wednesday, the Irish Independent contacted Mr Lahart and An Garda Síochána about the letter. Within hours gardaí told the house owners to inform the builders to cease the work after it was deemed non-essential. No penalty was issued.
“I don’t know what John Lahart’s engineering qualifications are, or how he can arrive at an opinion whether work is essential or not, and I don’t know why gardaí would take his word for what work was being done when it was plain to see the builders were just carrying on with the extension,” the neighbour said.
In the letter, dated February 3, Mr Lahart said the family were left with the back of their house exposed and windowless, and that once windows were installed the work would cease until lockdown was lifted. He said the house owners would have to seek alternative accommodation if the work to weatherproof the house was not carried out.
“This appears to be essential work as described under Level 5 Government restrictions relating to construction,” the letter said. But the neighbour who made a complaint to gardaí claimed the family moved out of the house at the beginning of the building project and have not lived in it for a period of months.
“My family have been abiding by the rules, as have most people, and I just thought it was wrong that I couldn’t let my children into our own back garden because this work was going on right beside us and the builders were so close to us without masks. We asked them several times to wear masks,” the neighbour said.
“There were no windows going in. The work was not as described to us. They were continuing with the extension. It was not essential work.”
Mr Lahart told the Irish Independent he was acting in good faith.
“Level 5 restrictions are there for all of us and impact on all of us. My general approach is to always act in good faith when dealing with constituents. If information subsequently comes to light then I try to act in good faith in that regard also,” he said.
It is understood Mr Lahart contacted the couple after the complaints came to light and also contacted gardaí to withdraw the letter.
The house owner, Karol Hogan, said the work recommenced on his house last Thursday after he had got the go-ahead from Rathfarnham Garda station.
“The window company can only deliver and install on one day so I had to carry out work to prepare for that, and that is the work that was being done in order to weatherproof the back of my house,” he said.
“I don’t understand the problem. I’m just trying to protect our home. We are following all the guidelines and had got permission from the gardaí.
"I only found out on Wednesday that work had to stop and I’ll be contacting the Garda Superintendent to find out where the difficulty lies.”