Evicted Traveller families return to Dundalk halting site

Council has ‘no regrets’ over eviction or families living on roadside with no water

The refurbished Woodland Park halting site in Louth. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

The refurbished Woodland Park halting site in Louth. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The return of 13 evicted Traveller families to a Dundalk halting site would be “a fresh start” for relations between them and Louth County Council, the council’s director of services has said.

Up to 23 Traveller families were controversially evicted from the Woodland Park halting site in January.

At a press briefing on the now-refurbished site on Thursday, Joe McGuinness said he had “no regrets” about how the episode was handled or about the conditions in which some of the evicted families had to subsequently live.

Several of the families spent months living in a car park without electricity or running water.

Mr McGuinness said there were “no particular lessons” to be learned from the experience.

“There is now engagement with these Travellers . . . whereas pre-January there was none,” he said.

“I think this will be a fresh start for relations with these Travellers,” he added.

The European Commission referred to the eviction in correspondence with the Department of Justice – in which the commission expressed its concern about the poor treatment of Travellers in Ireland.

Gardaí were involved in the evictions from the unauthorised site on January 15th which was described as confrontational and heavy-handed.

Garda-led operation

Families said they had been given just two days’ notice while Louth County Council disputed this, saying the families were aware of its plan to clear the site.

“How the removal was managed was a Garda-led operation. The guardians of the children had obligations, too. The site was an unsafe site to be on,” he said.

The unauthorised site was deemed unsafe following a fire safety audit in October 2015.

This was carried out following the deaths of ten people in a fire on a Traveller site in Carrickmines, Dublin.

The eviction appears to have breached a directive from the then department of the environment, as these fire safety audits were not to be used to change accommodation arrangements and “nothing in this . . . process is intended to be used to address broader Traveller accommodation issues in a negative way”.

In September, seven families, including six young children, remained by the roadside, at Hoey’s Lane.

Mr McGuinness, however, questioned whether families had in fact been living at Hoey’s Lane and insisted no Travellers are currently “roadside” in Dundalk.

He said that of the 18 families that presented for housing, following the eviction, 13 would be moving back to Woodland Park from Friday.

The remaining five were either in private-rented or social housing or had left Co Louth, he said.

Highest standards

The site has four permanent bays, each with a small house comprising a kitchen, bathroom and living area, and space for a mobile home.

In addition, there are 10 serviced bays – each with a small “tigín” with a steel sink and a toilet.

There are no showers or washing facilities in the serviced bays, at the families’ request according to Mr McGuinness.

He said they wanted to provide their own showers in their mobile homes which will be serviced with electricity and running water.

The refurbishment cost €450,000 while the families will pay differential rents on the same basis as other social housing tenants, of between €25 and €51.50 per week.

Mr McGuinness said the site was now safe and that he was satisfied it was of the highest standards.