Sligo Travellers consider squatters’ rights in car park row

Confrontation as council staff with gardaí moved to dismantle fence around caravan

A Traveller family which has been living in a Sligo car park for nearly 30 years is believed to be considering legal action against the county council for adverse possession or squatters’ rights.

This follows an incident at Connaughton Road car park last week when council staff, accompanied by gardaí, moved in to dismantle a garden fence which had been erected around a caravan.

The action was described as “heavy-handed” by Matilda (Tilda) McGinley, who lives at the car park with 27 family members, including 14 grandchildren aged from one to 17 years. Two teenage boys and a woman were treated for injuries at Sligo hospital following the incident, but were not admitted.

Last week’s confrontation is understood to have strained relations between the family and the local authority. Around 20 gardaí accompanied a group of workmen who used crow bars and saws to remove the fence which had been in place for a few months. Council sources said it had asked the family to remove the fence, and had made it clear that otherwise it would be forced to do so.


Gardaí were asked to accompany the workers because of an incident last year when a fireman was injured after a missile was thrown at a fire tender which was dealing with a fire in the car park, according to sources.

It is understood the council is surprised by suggestions that an adverse possession case is now on the cards. It had recently put three greenfield sites on the table for consideration by the family, but the McGinleys say all three are unacceptable, and that two had been previously turned down because of their proximity to industrial/commercial sites.

All options

Morgan Coleman, solicitor for the McGinley family, said “we are taking instructions from our clients, and advising them in relation to all options”.

Pressure has been growing for a resolution to the impasse between the council and the McGinley family, with a local business group expressing frustration that an “unofficial unregulated halting site” has been based in a town centre car park for so long.

Finbarr Filan, chairman of Sligo BID (Business Improvement District), said last week's incident was "unpleasant for all parties involved", but he said action had to be taken.

“The area is and always has been a public car park, and its use as a temporary residence for 28 years has been increasingly recognised as being unworkable for all involved.”

Speculation about a "squatters' rights" case follows a ruling at Dublin Circuit Court in June where a woman was granted ownership of a plot of land previously owned by Dublin Corporation on the basis that she had been looking after it for 12 years.

Constant dialogue

Bartley Gavin, director of services with Sligo County Council, said the local authority had been in "constant dialogue" with the family in an effort to get agreement on alternative accommodation. He conceded that it would take up to two years to develop a greenfield site if it was accepted by the family.

“We do need a car park, but that is not what drives us. Our desire is to provide the family with quality accommodation, and to assist them become more involved in society.”

Following last week’s confrontation, Barney McGinley said three members of his family , including two sons aged 14 and 16, had been injured. “We never wanted to be here.”

Mr McGinley said that some people had been making hostile comments about the family on Facebook. "They were saying 'shoot them'. My brother was shot."

Hughie McGinley was 26 when he was shot dead while he sat in a parked van in a busy shopping street in Sligo in 2005.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland