The view from the council depot on Mount Anville Road, in Mount Merrion, is one to savour. With a sweeping view of Dublin Bay, the south Dublin neighbourhood is among the capital’s most expensive, and a proposal by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to put Traveller accommodation there has made some residents unhappy.
Local authorities are required to have a five-year programme to meet Travellers’ existing and projected accommodation needs. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s draft programme for 2014-18 describes Mount Anville as suitable for five group housing units. As the plan goes to public consultation, a debate that has been going on intermittently since 1985 has been reignited.
Strong local opposition and the site’s continued use for other purposes had prevented the land being used for accommodation, but now the development looks more likely to go ahead.
Many local residents strongly oppose use of the land for Traveller accommodation. They say it is too valuable to give away. A Fine Gael councillor, Barry Saul, says the "premium site", which the council owns, could raise as much as €4 million on the market. "They could realistically buy three or four other sites for Traveller accommodation in the county for the money they would get for this."
Residents also complain that their own children have to move out of the area to find affordable homes. “None of our kids could afford to live on that site,” says a spokesman for one of the residents’ associations. “All our married kids can’t live in Mount Merrion. They live 20 or 30 miles away.”
Residents also worry about the possible effect of nearby Traveller housing on the value of their homes. A local estate agent says that it's difficult to estimate the impact of such a development on house prices but that the value of properties that back on to the site (as many do in the Ardilea Downs estate) would certainly fall.
Another resident, who, like all the Mount Anville locals interviewed for this article, wants to speak anonymously, calls the proposals totally unacceptable.
She says her concern is for the children at Mount Anville school, claiming that at a nearby temporary halting site at Knockrabo “the gentlemen, or so-called men, were urinating at the side of the road when kids were walking up and down to school. If they behaved the same as we do there’d be no problem. That’s all . . . It’s going to add to the traffic chaos, because parents aren’t going to be able to let the children walk to school.”
The opposition is unsurprising. People “generally have a concern in relation to the provision of Traveller accommodation in close proximity to residential areas”, says Tom McHugh, the council’s director of housing and community. “But that’s a fact of life. It’s not unique to Mount Merrion; it’s not unique to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.”
Martin Collins, a director of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, agrees, but he also draws a distinction between poor and affluent areas, arguing that the latter tend to mount stronger campaigns. "I'm over 30 years involved in Traveller rights, and it's my experience that the well-to-do areas certainly have the resources and the power to resist local authorities locating halting sites in what they might term 'their' areas," he says.
Right to worry?
Two parts of Dublin with established Traveller accommodation could help to establish whether Mount Anville residents are right to worry.
Across the M50, Tallaght has several halting sites, but for Mary Keegan, an estate management worker at Fettercairn Community Centre, “there’s not a problem in the world.”
It might be an exaggeration to say parts of west Dublin are entirely without problems, but Keegan says antisocial behaviour exists “all over the place” and can’t be attributed exclusively to Travellers. “It’s caused by society itself,” she says.
Traveller families have mixed well with the settled community since St Aidan’s halting site was set up in nearby Brookfield, in the 1980s, according to Keegan. She says Travellers like it there because they feel welcome. “Maybe in some more well-off communities they may not feel as comfortable.”
Back across the city in Blackrock, Alice Sugg says she has no issue with Travellers “living wherever they are placed”. Her estate, Barclay Court, off Frascati Road, sits next to Traveller accommodation. Other local residents, who again are reluctant to speak on the record, give the impression of never having had any difficulties, either. “We really do need to be able to share our space or our place with everyone,” Sugg says.
But she recognises that some people can find other cultures intimidating. She recalls when some Travellers once went around the estate, knocking on doors, trying to sell items to residents. “That is off-putting, but I think there are a lot of behaviours, practices, attitudes that can be off-putting that come from another culture. It doesn’t mean we can say they cannot live here.”
Whether the residents of Mount Anville are concerned with cultural practices, simple economics or both, it seems inevitable that at some point they will have new neighbours. “It’s an objective of our development plan and of our Traveller accommodation plan to provide Traveller accommodation on that site,” says Tom McHugh of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council. “That site is embedded in our development plan.”