Council told to reconsider Roma case

Family asked for housing transfer, claiming they were victims of violent intimidation

Mr Justice John Hedigan rejected claim that evidence of harassment was not considered. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Mr Justice John Hedigan rejected claim that evidence of harassment was not considered. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 01:00

A Roma family who claim they have been subjected to a prolonged and violent neighbourhood campaign of intimidation over their ethnic origin have won a High Court order quashing Dublin City Council’s refusal to grant them priority for a housing transfer.

The matter must be reconsidered by the council, Mr Justice John Hedigan directed.

Ion Zatreanu, his wife Cristina Stavarache and their four children, all Irish citizens, claimed some of their lives have been threatened since they moved to a council house in Greencastle Road, Coolock, in 2008. For the previous five years, they had lived in Artane and had no problems with neighbours, they said.

They said that, since moving to Coolock, they were told a number of times to return to their “own country” because they are “hated here”, the High Court was told.

The family allege they have been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by certain local residents in and around their home, damage has been caused to their house and car and one local person is centrally involved.

They also say there have been racially motivated murders reported in the area and they believe they are vulnerable to a potentially fatal assault at the hands of criminal gangs.

Mr Zatreanu, who got the Coolock house after being awarded medical priority on the housing list due to a heart condition, twice unsuccessfully applied to be transferred under the council’s “exceptional social grounds” scheme.

Following a third refusal, he brought High Court proceedings seeking to have the decision quashed on grounds including no reasons had been given for any of the refusals.

Yesterday, Mr Justice John Hedigan granted the family an order compelling the council to reconsider their application and to afford them safe and suitable alternative housing in an another area pending permanent transfer.

The judge said the council manages 27,000 social housing units and there are between 12 and 15 applications every week for priority transfer, usually involving tenants with serious social and personal problems.

He found the council’s chief welfare officer, who deals with applications for priority transfer, adopted the correct approach in initially not giving reasons for the Zatreanu refusal and later giving a brief outline of those reasons.

In making this contentious and delicate decision, it was very understandable the officer would not wish to add insult to injury by explaining to an unsuccessful applicant why his need was not greater than another’s, the judge said.

He rejected claims the officer did not take account of the evidence of harassment or there was a lack of proportionality in making the decision.

However, he found the officer applied too narrow a test in deciding the violence and harassment were matters for the gardaí and did not fall within the scope of “exceptional grounds” under the priority transfer scheme.

Such “incidents of law and order”, as referred to by the officer, were not excluded from the scope of the exceptional grounds scheme and the council should reconsider the matter, the judge directed.

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