*Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling. Photograph: Eamon Ward

A FULL HEARING in the High Court is to be held in an ongoing case between Clare County Council and an Ennis family.

At the end of January in what was a significant ruling, five Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in favour of the McDonagh family from Ennis who had an appeal against their eviction upheld. Their case focused on their unauthorised presence on a Clare Council-owned site, having not been provided with appropriate accommodation by the Council elsewhere.

The ruling set out that it is ultimately for a Council to convince the courts in any future cases that they have fulfilled their obligations, and for the Courts to assess the proportionality of the Council’s actions.

Clare County Council had secured an injunction from the High Court requiring Bernard and Helen McDonagh, and members of their family, to immediately vacate council-owned lands at Cahercallamore, Ennis, Co Clare. The mandatory injunction, granted in 2019, was to remain in place pending the outcome of the full hearing of the dispute. The injunction was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal in 2020.

For several years, the McDonagh family resided as tenants of the Council in a small Traveller-specific housing development. After the destruction of their home by fire they then lived in private housing for several years, but had to leave rented accommodation when the landlord required possession for the purpose of refurbishment. In 2018, they subsequently moved to the Council owned vacant site that is the subject of this case. Clare County Council’s initial action against the McDonaghs arose out of related proceedings where the local authority sought to have the McDonagh’s vacate another site in Ennis, which they had previously resided at before it was destroyed by a fire in 2012.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the County Council, Chief Executive, Pat Dowling detailed that the matter will be back before the High Court. He said there is a history of litigation between the local authority and the McDonagh family over the last five years.

Dowling remarked that the family initially tried to prevent the development of social housing by trespassing on a site in Ashline in 2017 with legal action taken by the Council to stop this with the McDonagh family failing with a subsequent counter-claim. Their next location impacted on access to Ennis National School before they then moved to an “unauthorised Council site” under the flyover.

“It took us four years to get this far,” Dowling added. He said “it is only an interim application that has been heard and determined” while noting an admission from the family that they were trespassers without a planning application. “It will be argued before the High Court in a full hearing. The case has been referred back to the High Court for a full plenary hearing with oral evidence”. Proceedings have not concluded he advised elected representatives.

His statement was issued in light of motions tabled by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) and Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF). Flynn asked for a report on the impact to the Council as a housing authority over the Supreme Court decision while Colleran Molloy sought the implications to all local authorities “granting the appeal discontinuing the injunction requiring Travellers to vacate the illegal encampment site on the Kilrush Road”.

The Chief Executive when finishing his address recommended no discussion take place on the matter with the legal proceedings still ongoing. Cllr Flynn asked that he be let have a discussion on the matter with the County Solicitor, “there are public safety issues pertinent to the case that I’d like to raise”.

Acknowledging that the matter was sub judice, Cllr Colleran Molloy said it was “very positive” that the High Court will hold a full-blown oral hearing on the matter, “hopefully the Council will prevail,” she stated.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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