Louth council agrees to rehouse evicted Travellers

Families are ‘homeless’ after being removed from disused halting site in Dundalk

 

Louth County Council said last night it would help secure temporary accommodation in the private rented sector for a group of Traveller families which it began evicting yesterday from a disused halting site in Dundalk.

The council said its decision to seek to remove the families was based “solely on its concerns for people’s health and safety”.

However, the families said they had nowhere to go after their caravans, containing their belongings, were removed from Woodland Park, which is council-owned land.

Gardaí, including the armed Regional Support Unit and the Public Order Unit, were at the scene from early Friday morning.

Woodland Park was an official serviced halting site for many years, but was closed in 2008 due to what the council said was, “a lack of interest among the Traveller community in utilising the site. Utilities on the site were also shut off at this time.”

However, since last April about 20 families moved on to the site and the council said it sought to relocate them because of concerns over site safety, including poor sanitation.

One of those affected on Friday was Martha Ward who said she and her husband Michael and their two-week-old daughter Jasmine were awake when the efforts to move them on began.

“We knew they were coming in, they gave us all an eviction notice. It is a site . . . what Travellers do is live on a site. The council won’t give us nowhere else to stay . . . we just wanted to stay there.”

Ms Ward said her caravan was taken and “I am genuinely homeless”.

‘Unfit for occupancy’

The families said their mobile homes had running water and electricity and were heated by gas heaters. One man said “we got it done by registered gas installers to make sure everything was safe . . .”.

In a statement last night, the council said its chief executive and director of services met with representatives from the Traveller community yesterday to discuss and agree a way forward.

Agreement has been reached with the representatives and those Travellers who were also present in the council offices.

“On foot of this agreement, the site will be vacated and a commitment was given by Louth County Council that a review of the Louth Traveller Accommodation Programme would commence, with a view to providing Traveller-specific accommodation, specifically group housing.

“In the meantime, it was agreed that those on the site will secure temporary accommodation in the private rented sector with the assistance of the council, and that Housing Assistance Payments can be arranged for all qualified applicants.

“The review of the programme will commence as a matter of urgency and the provision of permanent Traveller-specific accommodation will be progressed as quickly as possible, but it was recognised by both parties that it could take a maximum of three years to provide accommodation ready for occupancy.”

The council said it would be putting in place a Traveller-specific clinic each week to assist individual Travellers in making any necessary applications.

Earlier, Traveller rights group Pavee Point called on Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly to intervene as a matter of urgency to compel the council to provide alternative accommodation for the families.

Its co-director Martin Collins said: “This is one of coldest nights of the year and these people have no where to go... Louth County Council has totally failed in its duty here.

“These families have children at school in the town. Think how these children will be affected by this – in the same week that Ireland defended its record on children’s rights at the United Nations.”