A HIGH Court challenge over a decision by Waterford Council’s elected members not to develop Traveller accommodation in the city has been resolved. The High Court heard on Tuesday that as part of the settlement agreement the local authority’s decision is to be set aside.
Last March Waterford City and County Council’s elected members voted by 16 votes to two not to go ahead and build a seven-bay halting site at Carrickphierish Road, in Waterford. Arising out of that decision two members of the Irish Traveller Community, Ellen Delaney and Mary O’Reilly, who are sisters-in-law, brought judicial review proceedings against the Council.
The matter was briefly mentioned before Mr Justice Charles Meenan, who was told the matter had been resolved and that it had been agreed by the parties that an order could be made quashing the council’s decision. The judge was also informed that the council is to pay the applicant’s legal costs.
When the case first came before the court last June, the High Court heard that one of the applicants is currently living in a camper van, while the other is living in a mobile home, close to the site of the proposed halting site.
No proper reasons for the decision were given, they claimed. They also claimed that the proposed development was adopted by the elected members in early 2020 by the council as part of its Traveller Accommodation Programme. The elected members, when discussing the development, wrongly relied on erroneous assertions including that the site was provided as Covid-19 assistance to Travellers, it was also argued. The elected members had also failed to consider that the nearby Traveller group housing scheme was overcrowded.
They further claimed that the decision was invalid because it was made more than six weeks after the council’s Chief Executive recommended in a February 2021 report that construction of the halting site proceed. In their action against the Council the applicants, represented by solicitors for FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), sought an order quashing the elected members’ decision. They also sought various declarations including that no reasons were given for the decision, which was irrational, unreasonable and that irrelevant considerations were considered. They also claimed that the decision breached local authority housing obligations, and ignored various human rights legislation.
In a statement issued on Tuesday evening (November 23), the Waterford Traveller Community Development Project (WTCDP) welcomed the decision, saying that Ms. Delaney and Ms. O’Reilly “are young mothers who, along with other families at Carrickphierish, continue to live in overcrowded, hazardous and unacceptable conditions with their children”.
“Waterford Council’s refusal to implement the development (which was approved by the Council in early 2020 as part of its own legally adopted Traveller Accommodation Plan) was based on erroneous assumptions and faulty reasoning, breaching the Housing Code and human rights laws,” they said. “Notwithstanding the intolerable and dehumanising conditions still endured by the Carrickphierish families, the Council decision of March 15 has far-reaching implications. In our view, with the exception of Cllr. Ryan and the then Cllr. Gallagher, the absolute dereliction of duty highlighted by the Councillors’ populist move to block suitable accommodation for members of the Traveller community, has been made painfully clear in this case. This strengthens growing calls to remove responsibility of Traveller accommodation from Local Authorities, as elected members cannot be entrusted to implement their own plans it seems.”
The statement went on to say that the Councillors “seem to have no grasp on the startling amount of public money their reckless decision has cost the people of Waterford”.
“Waterford Council’s liability for both sets of legal costs, and those of Ms. Delaney and Ms. O’Reilly are not the only embarrassment here. Taking into consideration the high and ongoing costs of the temporary groundworks and sanitation provisions required at the scheme, the possible need for re-tendering of the work, and the increase in the cost of construction materials in the prevailing months since the development was vetoed, the whole caper will end up an extremely costly one,” the statement said. “This considerable and avoidable waste of Council money is even more of an own goal than the original decision of the Councillors to vote against their own approved Traveller Accommodation Plan in March, particularly in light of the fact that the development they have tried to veto won’t cost the Council a red cent, as it will be funded directly by the Department of Housing Local Government and Local Heritage. We hope there is enough decency in Waterford Council for this fiasco to provoke at least a few red faces tonight.”