Hogan heavily criticised over Traveller letter to constituent

Thu, Sep 27, 2012, 01:00

MINISTER FOR the Environment Phil Hogan has come in for strong Opposition criticism after he wrote a letter to constituents in Bonnettstown, Co Kilkenny, assuring them a Traveller family would not be moved into their area.

While Mr Hogan yesterday stood by his decision, Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on Community Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív, said it would represent “an extraordinary abuse of power” for a Government Minister to personally interfere in a housing allocation process to prevent a Traveller family being housed on the basis of them being Travellers.

“It would also be illegal under the terms of Equality legislation and the Housing Act,” he added. A statement issued on his behalf said “Phil Hogan needs to make a full statement on racism allegations.”

Sinn Féin housing spokesman Dessie Ellis said a Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government should be meeting the housing needs of people rather than obstructing them.

However, speaking at the National Ploughing Championships in New Ross, Co Wexford, Mr Hogan claimed other public representatives made similar representations to the same local authority and he felt sure “that will come to light in due course”.

He saw no reason to apologise.

The Minister said he was responding to the concerns of his local constituents in the letter. “I got information from my local constituency office and I passed it on to the local authority before they came to any conclusions about the allocation of that dwelling,” he said. “They were aware of it before they made that decision and ultimately decided to house the family with special conditions on the tenancy.”

Asked about the fact that the Carthy family felt aggrieved Mr Hogan replied: “Look, I have been in favour all the time of trying to assist people to get housing and there was an anti-social behaviour issue with that family who were already housed in that area, going back to the nineties.

“I brought that information to the attention of the local authority who are ultimately responsible for making the decision.”

He said the question should be asked as to why why the family was “removed from that particular area some years ago by the local authority itself”.

He said he understood the Carthy family were doing exceptionally well in their new house and “I wish them every success in that particular dwelling. The residents and the Carthy family can reconcile their differences from the past and get on with their lives.”

Questioned about Mr Ó Cuív’s suggestion that his intervention was an abuse of power Mr Hogan replied: “I don’t agree with it. I’m entitled to disagree.”

The Minister said he disagreed with those who felt the letter was discriminatory towards Travellers. “It’s nothing to do with Travellers at all. it’s to do with anti-social behaviour. I resent and regret that they made that comment. No I don’t feel I should apologise.”

Mr Ó Cuív said enormous work had been done over the last decade to reach out to the travelling community to improve their living standards and improve relations with settled communities.

“A public representative in a position of national leadership taking the sort of action suggested in this correspondence would do enormous damage to that process,” he said.

Green Party environment spokesman, Kilkenny county Councillor Malcolm Noonan saidthis was “a disgraceful and completely inappropriate action by Minister Hogan”.

Pavee Point said it was dismayed by the letter. Its spokesman, Martin Collins, said all politicians need to show leadership and should not pander to prejudice against his community.