A woman's dream of returning to settle in her native Connemara is under threat after the Department of the Environment objected to granting planning permission on the grounds it would disturb an EU-protected species of heather.
Nora Griffin, a native of Ballyconneely in west Connemara, and her husband have spent €15,000 over the last four years applying to Galway County Council for planning permission to build a house in the area.
The council finally granted permission on Griffin's third application attempt last October.
However, the heritage section of the Department of the Environment then objected in December as the house was on a special area of conservation (SAC) dominated by the 'European Dry Heaths' – protected by an EU habitats directive.
"This is beyond belief but has happened before in west Connemara" said Eileen Mannion, Fine Gael local election candidate.
Mannion has called on minister John Gormley to withdraw or amend his objection and has also written to gaeltacht minister Eamon O Cuiv asking him to raise the matter with his cabinet colleague.
Griffin emigrated to Australia in 1969 and later moved to Scotland. Four years ago, she and her husband sold their house in Scotland to return home attracted by the council's offer to grant planning permission to returning natives.
Griffin satisfied all the council's controversial requirements for the scheme in that she was born and brought up the area and the house will be the couple's main residence.
"This is a matter of huge controversy locally in Connemara. Connemara people feel that a widespread heather such as the "European Dry Heather", to be found in tens of thousands of acres on the Ballyconneely Peninsula, should not enjoy a status superior to that of an applicant with an essential housing need," said Mannion.
Griffin's site is just across the road from a house owned by the wife of District Court Judge Donnachadh O'Buachalla who uses it primarily as a holiday home. Planning permission to build the four-bedroom house was given to a local woman who then sold it to O'Buachalla's wife.
A spokesman for minister Gormley said he would not comment on individual planning issues. He added that the department has a statutory obligation to protect the natural and built environment and can make observations on plans based on expert advice.