FG candidates accused of playing ‘Traveller card’

Councillor ‘delighted’ Traveller housing scheme she voted for is cancelled

Fine Gael has disassociated itself from the comments of two of its Dublin election candidates following the distribution of apparently anti-Traveller literature.

Traveller support organisations say they are "appalled" and "devastated" by the tone of a leaflet distributed around the Newcastle area of west Dublin by Cllr Emer Higgins last week.

Ms Higgins, a member of South Dublin County Council, told residents she was "delighted to announce" proposed Traveller accommodation would not now proceed. Her comments come weeks after those in election literature from Fine Gael election candidate for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Josepha Madigan, who described plans to build Traveller accommodation in the Mount Anville area as a "dreadful waste of taxpayers' money".

Units unfinished
Ms Higgins's comments come on foot of a decision by the council not to proceed with the purchase of 10 partially built dwellings that were to be a Traveller group housing scheme. On the fringes of the Newcastle Lyons housing estate, they were to comprise one of six new Traveller developments promised in South Dublin County Council's current Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP). The programme was passed by councillors, including Ms Higgins, in a vote in January.

It was to be delivered by the original developers of the estate, Maplewood Developments. However, Maplewood went into receivership in 2012, with a number of units and the Traveller housing unfinished.

In the interim, some of these have been sold or are sale agreed. However, the Traveller units remain unfinished and at a meeting between the receivers, Grant Thornton, and the council last Friday a decision was taken that they would not be completed.

'Antisocial behaviour'
Hours after the Friday meeting, residents received the leaflet from Ms Higgins, headed: "Proposed Traveller Accommodation Scheme, Ballynakelly, will NOT [her emphasis] go ahead." She said: "I am delighted to announce that the council are no longer considering purchasing these houses off the developer [sic] for development as a Traveller Accommodation Scheme."

Among the reasons she gives are: “Parking problems and antisocial behaviour.”

A spokesperson for Fine Gael said the comments by these election candidates “in no way reflect the views of the party”. The current TAP says some 166 Traveller families are in need of accommodation.

Among those is Nora McDonagh, who said: “We work so hard trying to help young Travellers be proud of their identity, and then this, from someone in a position of power who is meant to represent everyone in her constituency. Her [Ms Higgins] doing this gives a licence to other people to be anti-Traveller because they have the backing of people like her.”

Martin Collins of Pavee Point said the candidates were "clearly playing the Traveller card".