Killarney locals call on council to tackle ‘crazy’ feud

Ballyspillane council estate family had petrol-filled bottle thrown at front door at 1am

Gardaí in Hazelwood Drive, Ballyspillane, Killarney, where a house’s windows were broken and front door scorched. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Gardaí in Hazelwood Drive, Ballyspillane, Killarney, where a house’s windows were broken and front door scorched. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

 

Forty years old this year, the Ballyspillane council estate was controversial from the start. Built more than a mile from Killarney town, it was put in place without proper footpaths, far from shops and other amenities.

Since then, however, Killarney has grown eastwards to meet it. Sports clubs and swimming pool, shops and restaurants are now within a stone’s throw. Many of Ballyspillane’s houses are now privately owned, while a strong resident’ association has developed.

Meanwhile, a state-of-the-art community centre was established in 2004, offering huge support services, including a playschool, after-school facilities for children and computer training, along with health, wellbeing and counselling services.

Last week, however, residents from the estate went before Kerry County Council’s last meeting of the municipal district council to demand action to tackle an ongoing and violent feud between a small number of settled Traveller families.

Local councillor Donal Grady at the entrance to Ballyspillane estate: “Innocent people trying to live there are stuck in the middle of all of this.” Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Local councillor Donal Grady at the entrance to Ballyspillane estate: “Innocent people trying to live there are stuck in the middle of all of this.” Photograph: Don MacMonagle

Saying that the feud began “over something minor” 15 months ago, Independent councillor Donal Grady said there have been “at least” 20 incidents since. “What is going on is crazy. Innocent people trying to live there are stuck in the middle of all of this.”

“Now we are at a stage where lives are at risk,” said Veronica Murphy of the Ballyspillane Residents Association, “It is the innocent neighbours who are most affected by the dangerous activities taking place.”

Three weeks ago, Michelle O’Brien and her husband were the latest to suffer, when they were forced to evacuate their four children from their home at Hazlewood Drive after a petrol-filled bottle was thrown at the front door at 1am.

It is of the utmost priority that we are safe in our own homes. We have been asking for help for years from you

Describing the recent outbreak of violence as “very sad”, Brigid Quilligan of the Kerry Traveller Movement said: “It has a massive effect on morale and on the wider Traveller community.”

Anti-social behaviour

Only a very small number of those living in the 216-house estate or those living nearby are involved. “I have very happy memories. All different ethnicities got on there. In the last few years this has disintegrated,” Ms Quilligan added.

Anti-social behaviour in Ballyspillane is now at a dangerous level, a succession of groups told the local authority committee. It is the second time the groups have felt the need to come before it in just two years.

“The whole community is becoming more and more frustrated and disillusioned with the system, as it looks like that there are no repercussions for those engaging in anti-social behaviour.

“It is of the utmost priority that we are safe in our own homes. We have been asking for help for years from you. Other agencies have highlighted issues, which seem to have fallen on deaf ears,” Veronica Murphy told the local authority committee.

Ballyspillane Community and Family Resource Centre in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Don MacMonagle
Ballyspillane Community and Family Resource Centre in Killarney, Co Kerry. Photograph: Don MacMonagle

For years, Ballyspillane has felt neglected. Street lighting, which locals believe would help to counter crime and anti-social behaviour, has still not been installed, despite numerous calls for it to be introduced.

Locals frequently complain about Kerry County Council. Broken footpaths mar parts of the estate. Horses roam freely, along with dangerous dogs. Rubbish is frequently burned in public or simply dumped.

People are not willing to make a statement and if they don’t we cannot bring a case

Some elderly living in the estate have been targeted, while “very young” boys are accused of riding around the estate on new quad-bikes, and are accused of issuing threats, littering and general misbehaviour.

Use of slash-hooks

Fighting in public has become relatively common place, the Justice and Policing Committee of Kerry County Council was told, and this included a report of one alleged incident involving women outside the community centre in recent weeks. Slash-hooks have been used in other incidents.

A derelict house has been left abandoned and is now home for late-night parties, say locals, who complain that the local authority has failed to respond to calls for close-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras.

Evictions are hard to get and depend on witnesses coming forward, said Kerry County Council’s housing liaison officer, Sean McCarthy: “People are not willing to make a statement and if they don’t we cannot bring a case.”

CCTV was “the key” to prevent criminal behaviour and also to detect it, but the installation of cameras is caught up in data protection issues, said Niall Kelleher, former mayor of Killarney and chairman of the Kerry Joint Policing Committee.

Seven years ago, there was a proposal put to the local authority to divide up Ballyspillane into three estates, but this was opposed then and now by the Ballyspillane Residents’ Association.

Speaking after Wednesday’s council meeting, the association’s chairman, David Foran, said residents do not want to isolate Travellers living on the estate, describing them as the best neighbours in the world.

However, troublemakers must be dealt with. Locals want Ballyspillane’s environment respected, but they also want Kerry County Council to finally give them “basic infrastructure”, so they can feel secure, he said.