The long wait by 150 citizens in Tallaght


More than 150 Irish citizens live right in the heart of Tallaght. They are just behind the gleaming new county council offices and beside the new hospital. They are overlooked by Cuisine de France, a food factory. Also overlooking them are three cranes on a site where new offices and apartments are being built. They are a short distance from the new Plaza Hotel and the new Garda station.

On Saturday afternoon last, in the midst of the filth, the debris and the desolation where these 150-plus citizens live, Mary Maughan said: "They say we are second-class citizens, in fact we are not citizens at all."

These citizens live in what resembles a massive refuse site on what is known as St Maelraun's Field. There are about 25 caravans, many of them almost piled on top of each other. Three weeks ago the electricity supply to this site was cut off because of a fire. Since then, in spite of repeated promises by the ESB and the county council, the families on the site have done without electricity and, for most of them, without heating, without hot water.

There are a few taps which trickle out water and there are a few outdoor toilets. And that's it for the Irish citizens, some of whom have been on this site for over 20 years.

A few dead rats were on view on Saturday afternoon. Several of the residents spoke of the place being alive with rats most of the time. One of the residents, Edward O'Reilly, said: "The dogs are fed up chasing rats, they don't bother any more."

The council did provide skips for rubbish but the skips were taken away several weeks ago. The site for the skips is now covered over by mounds of earth amassed by the construction company building the nearby new apartments and offices. The council has provided one wheelie bin per "bay" but since there are several caravans and families in most of the bays, the single bin is entirely inadequate.

There has been a problem with the electricity supply for years. Cables run from caravan to caravan and at the best of times there have been repeated electricity failures because fuses have blown. When the caretaker is on the site the fuses can be replaced. When the caretaker is not on the site (in the evenings and over weekends), then too bad, the restoration of electricity has to await his return.

The residents have offered repeatedly to pay for normal electricity supply but neither the council nor the ESB is interested. The reason seems to be that the council wants these people off the site, even though it is accepted as a temporary site and some of the people there have been on the site for decades. It is to become the new water-leisure centre for Tallaght.

Up the road there are nine families (probably 50 people) on the side of the road near an official halting site at Rossfield. They have no services at all. No water, no electricity, no sanitary facilities. Nothing. The council refuses to provide them with a skip. Ideally, they would like to be on a halting site, like the one they live beside, but, failing that, they would like to go into Maelruan's.

The official halting site at Rossfield is dismal, although probably the original concept for the site was well intentioned - halting bays interspersed with small houses. But the overall impression now is bleak, with long forbidding iron gates at the entrance to each of the bays.

Farther up the road is what is known as the Coalyard, where there are four families. This is another unofficial halting site, where, the residents say, the council refuses to supply any services - no water, no sanitary facilities, no rubbish collection. Just filth, debris, a lake at the entrance to the site, broken walls around it. One of the young men living there said: "You're dead before you die at all." This is across the road from the Nestles factory.

Yesterday afternoon, Michael Fagan, the senior officer on South Dublin County Council with responsibility for the Traveller accommodation unit, said: "The fact that there are people living in such appalling conditions is because of resistance on the part of the settled community to the provision of proper accommodation for Travellers in locations close to them." He said that just that evening (i.e., yesterday) the council was applying to the High Court for an injunction to have a blockage by residents of a site near the Tallaght roundabout on the M50 removed, so that an emergency halting site could be provided.

Asked why electricity remained cut off from the St Maelraun's Field, he said the whole place had to be refitted and that this took time. He said the ESB was due to certify the site today and it was hoped that the power supply would be restored within days. Asked why this had not been done a long time ago, he said it was because the electricity was supplied free of charge to the Travellers on this site and it had cost the council £42,700 in 1999.

Asked about the Rossfield unofficial site, he said that it had been hoped to move the people onto the M50 site but there had been problems. Asked about the Coalyard site, he said the council had no duty of care to any of the families on this site, bar one, and that family was being offered alternative accommodation.