Law to stop Travellers occupying land without consent is enacted

 

Travellers who occupy land without the owner's consent will be liable to criminal trespass charges under legislation brought into force yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Cullen.

Section 24 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002, which was rushed through the Dáil before the general election, prohibits anybody from entering or occupying land where this is likely to lead to substantial damage to the land or its amenity.

Defending the measure, Mr Cullen said it was a reality that the illegal occupation of lands by Travellers had caused frustration and anger among the public and resulted in considerable clean-up costs to the taxpayer.

Until now there had been no effective measures in place to deal with the illegal occupation of land. "By commencing this Act, enforcement of the new provision, including ensuring the removal of any objects placed on the land, will be a matter for the Garda," he said.

Contrary to claims made by some Traveller groups, the Minister said, criminal trespass would not apply to families camped on the roadside or to those who occupy any other land with the owner's consent.

The new legislation will also enable local authorities to "remove unauthorised temporary dwellings from public places within one mile of approved traveller accommodation".

"It is important that we respect the traditions of the Travelling community," Mr Cullen said. Though progress in the provision of Traveller halting sites had been difficult, considerable investment in recent years was beginning to show results.

A total of €80.75 million had been spent on providing 1,591 new or refurbished accommodation sites for Travellers between 1996 and 2001, including 237 halting-site bays. A further €23 million had been allocated for Traveller accommodation in 2002.

This expenditure would put proper sewerage and water facilities in place as well as removing the dangers associated with encampments adjacent to busy roadways.

Other measures brought into effect by the Minister's order include placing the affordable housing scheme on a statutory basis and enabling the National Treasury Management Agency to borrow money on behalf of the Housing Finance Agency.

The order also permits the Minister for Social and Family Affairs to make regulations governing the payment of rent allowances to successor tenants in the formerly rent-controlled sector who were due to lose their protection after July 25th.