The stand-off between residents of a south Dublin cul-de-sac and Dún Laoghaire- Rathdown County Council over where to accommodate 15 homeless Travellers following the Carrickmines halting site fire last weekend provides a stark illustration of the difficulties councils face in providing Traveller accommodation.
A meeting between council housing officials and residents of Rockville Drive, off Glenamuck Road in Carrickmines, will reconvene this morning.
It broke up yesterday following two hours of talks, during which the officials assured residents a planned emergency halting site near their homes would be “decommissioned” within six months.
Residents departed to consider these assurances overnight and will bring their views back to the officials this morning. In the meantime, they are continuing their blockade of the one-acre site owned by the council in order to prevent it being prepared for use as a halting site.
The residents’s show of opposition to the proposed emergency site has shocked many people, but not everyone.
While Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly called it "shameful" and Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin described it as "disgusting", Taoiseach Enda Kenny appeared more sympathetic to the residents, saying "you must consult with local people".
It is worth remembering that among the 15 homeless survivors of the Carrickmines halting site fire last Saturday morning, in which 10 people died, are an elderly couple who have lost a son, a daughter-in- law and three grandchildren.
One of the five homeless children is their four-year-old grandson who remains in intensive care in Crumlin children’s hospital. They would like to bring him back to a home, rather than to an emergency hotel room.
The council is determined to provide them with a home base from which to begin the process of grieving before the funerals take place, probably next week.
If the Rockville Drive residents continue to resist the council’s plans, it is open to officials to deploy emergency powers to force them through against the residents’ wishes, by court order if necessary. However, they will be reluctant to follow such a course.
Whatever the outcome today, the officials have been commended by Travellers for the energy they have brought to trying to resolve the families’ housing crisis.
Local authority officials throughout the country have not always received such thanks. Dún Laoghaire council has been criticised for being one of 15 local authorities this year which drew down no money from the Government for Traveller housing.
Councils often face huge hostility from settled residents to housing for Traveller residents. The hostility is often championed by councillors putting out blatantly anti-Traveller statements.
Shortly before last year’s local elections, for instance,
in the Stillorgan area described plans for a Traveller halting site as a “dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”.
The level of distrust between many people in the settled and Traveller communities is beyond doubt and Travellers themselves know their community has many issues they must address, including crime, unemployment, alcohol abuse and domestic violence.
Local authorities, as this stand-off illustrates, face huge challenges in delivering Traveller housing. The establishment of a national Traveller housing authority, operating independently of local politics, is something that must be considered.