Traveller families unable to build on own land, living on roadside

‘The children had to dress themselves under the covers’

 

Two Traveller families, including seven children under 12, are living by the side of the road in Co Kilkenny with neither electricity nor running water.

One hundred yards up the small rural road outside Mooncoin is a large plot of land the families own and would like to live on.

Kilkenny County Council’s planning section, however, says they have no permission to live on the land as it is zoned “commercial”, while its housing section says they cannot apply for social housing as they have land which they “could reasonably be expected to use to meet [their] housing need”.

“It’s very frustrating,” says Mary McInerney, whose children, Shauna (11), Jason (9), Chantelle (6), Ellie-May (4) and Patrick (19 months), have not had a home with basic facilities in over three years.

She says the family were living in Kilbarry, an official Traveller site in Waterford city, until 2014. They had their own bay, but their van was burnt out and they had to leave.

“We have been staying all over since, but keep being moved on. The children have been in four different schools in the last three years – in Waterford, Athy, Naas,” Ms McInerney says.

“They’re in Kilmacow national school since February. They’ve settled in well, but they’re attending resource teachers though, because they’ve fallen behind so much with all the moving.”

Bought the site

Her husband, Tom McInerney, and his brother Gary, who has two children, bought the site in January. Ms McInerney says the families had some money following a “small compensation payout” and decided to buy land to live on. They saw a “For Sale” sign on the site late last year and were assured, she says, having the land rezoned as residential’ would be “straightforward”.

Though rural and quite isolated, houses are lived in beside and across the road from the site. On it is a four-room outhouse, with a small shower-room and a washing machine, along with electricity and cold running water.

“Our plan was to put two bedrooms in here, insulate it and we could use the facilities. In time we’d build houses here. We thought finally we’d have somewhere we couldn’t be put out of, because it’s ours. It wasn’t to be, it seems. We don’t want to depend on anyone, or on any council.”

She and her husband, his brother, and his wife Margaret, attended two pre-planning meetings at the council, in March and in June.

“The planning officer told us, ‘we’ll all work together to help you’, but since then the council has been working against us,” Ms McInerney says.

A court hearing, at which the council sought to injunct the families from living on the land, was adjourned in June to allow them submit planning applications. They submitted two, in August and again in October. Both were deemed “invalid” according to the council “for a number of technical reasons including inadequate drawings”.

Served with order

On 27th October, the families were served with an order to leave their land, with which they complied.

For the past three weeks, the families have been parked, in two caravans, bringing water in 5-litre plastic bottles from their “out-house”. They have two erratic electricity generators, and bottle-gas to cook.

“When the generator breaks we’ve no heating, nothing. Sometimes I turn on the gas oven, open it to heat the place. It’s not safe,” Ms McInerney says.

“Last Monday morning was so cold you could see the dew on the quilts. The children had to dress themselves under the covers. When the bus came and took them to school I just sit here and I cried,” she says, her eyes filling with tears.

“I get very upset. This is not what I want for my children. All we want is to start to make a life for ourselves. We’re trying. You’d think, with the amount of money the council is spending fighting us wanting to make homes for ourselves, they’d be better off supporting us.”

In its 2014-2018 Traveller Accommodation Programme the council says “Kilkenny local authorities are committed to adopting a pro-active and flexible approach in meeting the challenge of providing accommodation for those in need and assisting others who can afford it to obtain their own accommodation”.

A spokeswoman for the council outlined the steps taken in the case since February.

“As of 15th November there is no valid planning application . . . relating to the above site. Kilkenny County Council took appropriate action in this case.” She would not comment on “an individual housing case”.