By Gordon Deegan

A prominent government TD has helped put the brakes on plans for a €6.5 million ‘therapeutic farm’ aimed at aiding recovery for people experiencing significant mental health difficulties. 

Fine Gael TD, Bernard Durkan and two other parties have each lodged appeals with An Bord Pleanála against Kildare County Council’s grant of planning permission for the Kyrie Therapeutic Farm.

The planner’s report, which recommended that planning permission be granted to Kyrie Therapeutic Farm for the ‘step-down’ mental health facility to be located halfway between Straffan and Kill, stated that the proposal “appears to be the first of its kind in the state”.

The council planner stated that the proposal “is at a scale and nature appropriate to the rural and agricultural nature of the site”.

Therapeutic farm

The “world class therapeutic centre” is to have capacity for 40 residents. According to the planning notice, the farm is to be “an essential element of the overall programme of healing and recovery”.

Its promoters state that recovery “will be facilitated through the creation of a healing environment combining a supportive community, therapeutic and holistic care and meaningful opportunities for participating in a natural farm setting in Ireland”.

The facility involves the construction of four four-bedroom residential units and four six-bedroom residential units along with a communal building.

However, a question mark has been placed over the entire project following the move by Deputy Durkan and the two other appellants of the council grant to An Bord Pleanála. 

Kyrie Therapeutic Farm has stated that it hopes to be up and running for March 2023 – but this was prior to the appeals being lodged.

A spokesman for Kyrie Therapeutic Farm said on Friday (April 29), that the appeals “could delay the farm by up to one year”. He added that the construction period for the project would be around 12 months.

Reason for opposition

The stance taken by Deputy Durkan – who was in the spotlight recently after raising questions over the lack of Lotto winners last year – is in contrast to that taken by his constituency colleague, a Fianna Fáil TD, James Lawless.

Lawless, who is chair of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, wrote to Kildare County Council to support the Kyrie Farm application for the Former Portree Stables, Boston, Straffan.

In an interview today (Friday, April 29), Deputy Durkan said: “We need mental health facilities in a big, big way but we don’t superimpose them on a community.

“That is what is being done here and it can be more damaging to the people that we are trying to help than helpful, if they are superimposed on people and there is local resentment towards it.”

Deputy Durkan stated that the scheme “offends local people in the area who have applied for planning permission for one-off homes and been refused and the magnitude of the development also offends”.

The TD added that “the problem is that this institution is being superimposed on a small local rural community in an area that has dangerous roads, no roads and narrow bridges”.

Deputy Durkan added that “people say ‘look this farm therapy is unique’ and it is good and so on, but it is the wrong place, and all it can do is exacerbate existing problems like rural congestion”.

Health facilities

The Kildare North TD pointed out that “it is a much needed health facility, but you don’t put a much needed health facility in the middle of the road somewhere or an area that makes them vulnerable”.

Deputy Durkan stated that it has been “a very divisive issue locally”. He said: “I feel very strongly about it.”

In his appeal, Deputy Durkan claims that in granting planning permission, Kildare County Council has not addressed concerns he raised in his original objection on behalf of the community of Boston, Straffan.

He has told the board that the site in question “is totally unsuitable for the provision of a treatment centre, whether it be incorporated in a farm or otherwise”.

The Fine Gael deputy stated that the therapeutic farm, if granted, “will seriously impact in a very negative way on the quality of life for existing residents of Boston Hill”.

A spokesperson for Kyrie Therapeutic Farm said that the appeals “could delay the farm by up to one year”. He said that the construction period for the project would be around 12 months.

A decision is due on the appeal at the end of August.