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Laws for illegal encampments too lenient say Clare councillors

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*The illegal encampment at Skehanagh Roundabout earlier this summer. Photograph: Cllr Paul Murphy

Prosecutions for illegal encampments within the county are not working, elected representatives in Clare have claimed.

During the month of June and into early July, “upwards of thirty caravans” were on site in close proximity to the Skehanagh Roundabout off the M18 motorway on the approach to Ennis. Once Clare County Council issued legal notice to personnel at the illegal encampment the 35 caravans departed.

For the second time in the space of four months, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) flagged the issue at a meeting of Clare County Council. Back in July, senior executive officer Leonore O’Neill stated a multi-agency approach was required for dealing with illegal encampments and that is what the Clarecastle representative requested at their October meeting plus the introduction of by-laws to prohibit overnight parking that could led to similar occurrences.

He wished to see Clare County Council, the Chief Superintendent of the Clare Division of An Garda Síochána, the Public Health Office of the HSE, Tusla and the Department of Education included in the multi-agency response taskforce.

Council Directors Anne Haugh and Carmel Kirby highlighted in a written response that the local authority works closely with the groups mentioned but is open to “a more formal engagement” to address illegal encampments in Clare. “This Council enact the available legislation to address illegal encampments and have resolved a number of such matters in the recent past. There are a number of encampments remaining, one of which is the subject of high court action. In relation to the other encampments this Council are working to find a housing solution for the families however engagement of the social housing applicant is proving difficult”.

They flagged that current overnight parking restrictions only apply to designated parking space. Routes on national motorways fall under the remit of Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

“At one stage, there was upwards of 30 caravans on site. The well-being and safety of kids came to my mind, they were playing by ponds, running out onto the roads and had a high absenteeism from school. They were down from Laois or Offaly, they had Council houses up there and were down on their holidays,” Cllr Murphy stated and praised the local authority for the clean-up on site.

As he seconded the motion, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) pointed out the dangers of an encampment of that scale. “The issue with public sanitation is a big issue. It was a very large encampment that had fire risks associated with it”.

“It’s important that the element of the children needs to be first and foremost. An awful lot of parents don’t seem the recognise the impact it is having. It’s very frustrating not alone for the schools but for the Council that has to follow up on things,” Cllr Ann Norton (IND) lamented. “These people are moving around, they are claiming and are in different counties. It is very difficult for all agencies. Something has to change and somebody has to take responsibility. It is up higher up the chain to put procedures in place to stop this from happening”. She felt change was needed to stop such children being “at risk”.

Laws in place are far too lenient, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) felt and praised Cllr Murphy for starting a “healthy debate”. “The elephant in the room is that our Government down through the years whether it is Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Greens, Labour, they are failing to grab the thorn but is a big issue. They are entitled to go holidays but they had a designated Council home where they were. It can be difficult to apply the laws to travellers that are applied to settled people. The litter there was at a ferocious rate. They should have to book holidays like the rest of us”.

Ennis representative, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) struggled to see why Clare was such an attractive location for illegal encampments. “The Council over the past 20 years have been bringing these people to Court, it’s not working. I would support a multi-agency approach. They all seem to come to Clare whatever it is about Clare. The Council can do so much but at the end of the day it’s the courts that dictate”.

Cathaoirleach of the County Council, Cllr Cathal Crowe (FF) in conclusion added, “There are traveller rights and of course responsibilities. If you are housed or are in a halting site, you come under the housing service, the waste has to be properly and legally disposed of. I would ask our environmental staff to visit tenants who are not fulfilling that part of their agreement”.

Newmarket-on-Fergus native, Páraic McMahon is a freelance journalist and broadcaster currently working for numerous national and local publications including The Clare Echo, The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent, The Irish Times, RTÉ, TheJournal.ie, The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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