AT last Thursday’s meeting of Waterford City & County Council, the 2019-2024 Traveller Accommodation Scheme – which all local authorities must provide due to Government legislation – was passed by a majority of councillors, but not without some dissenting voices.
As part of the scheme, a number of proposals were made, including: a seven bay halting site with day houses at Carrickphierish in the City (by 2020), a seven bay upgrade at a halting site in Dungarvan (by 2021), a five unit group scheme at Green Road Waterford City South (by 2020) and four additional units as part of a refurbishment of the Kilbarry Halting Site in 2020.
The scheme also proposes three new halting sites in the Dungarvan/Lismore Area (2021), Waterford City West (2022) and Waterford City East (2023).
Fianna Fáil Councillor John O’Leary, who is also chairman of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, proposed the scheme.
“There has been very little Traveller specific accommodation provided by this council over the last 10 years,” said Cllr O’Leary. “After visiting a number of sites recently they have certainly left a lot to be desired. There are over 220 Traveller families living in Waterford City & County – the majority of which are living in standard houses provided by the council. It is vital that this council improve the standard of accommodation for these people and I welcome the adoption of this scheme.”
Independent Councillor Joe Conway echoed Cllr O’Leary’s comments but was the first to “flag some concerns”.
“We are proposing a plan here and we must be cognisant of the fact that the Travellers have their rights, however we are bound in duty to make sure that in delivering those rights, we are not threading on the rights of others to enjoy their quality of life as well.”
Independent Councillor Joe Kelly expressed concerns with the scheme.
“The proposal for a seven bay halting site at Carrickpherish was already voted against at the recent Metropolitan Meeting because it was considered to be way over the top by the people of that area,” Cllr Kelly said. “If we were to go ahead with that halting site, and housed the caravans that were located on the side of the road up there, what would stop another 6-7 caravans pulling in there and what would we do about it? We asked that question in the Metropolitan Meeting and the answer that we were given was ‘nothing’. This shouldn’t just be a rubber stamp exercise… we have to examine this thing. Having Traveller rights is all well and good but I see very little in the way of Traveller responsibilities.
“A mobile home was erected on blocks in Carrickpherish and if anyone else did that it would be removed in a minute. That home hasn’t been moved and I expect there will be very little done about it. We have one group of people able to break the law and install mobile homes at huge expense, while others on our housing list are desperate to get a house. We need to get better at implementing the rules and regulations to Travellers as well as everyone else. Everyone should be treated equally.”
Cllr Kelly was the only councillor to vote against the plan while Sinn Fein Councillor Jim Griffin, who also cited Carrickpherish as a major cause for concern – calling it “totally unacceptable”, chose to abstain from the vote.
Green Party’s Jody Power, who voted for the scheme, endorsed the comments of Cllr John O Leary, but also agreed with much of Cllr Joe Kelly’s comments.
“We have to pass this as it is our statutory duty but it’s only words on paper and means nothing unless a lot changes between the last development plan, and this one,” Cllr Power said. “Travellers are Irish citizens and have all the rights that the constitution allows but they should also have the responsibilities. I was shocked to find out that maintenance of Traveller accommodation in Waterford City costs €450k per year. If we could have enforcement of the laws of the land, like we have for everyone else, then this plan would have more chance of success. There’s a scrap yard in the middle of John’s Park, which has been allowed to stay there for the past seven years and that’s just disgraceful.”