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Minister for Travellers needed to ‘sort out’ recurring issues

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*Photograph: Joe Buckley

Consideration needs to be given to the creation of a Minister for Travellers to sort out issues “once and for all,” a Clare councillor has stated.

Members of the Clare Joint Policing Committee discussed the draft anti-social behaviour strategy 2020 to 2026 on Monday with the discussion focusing on the Traveller community.

Clare PPN representative, Madeline McAleer requested that the linking of an ethnic minority to anti-social behaviour be removed from the strategy. Housing officer, Siobhán McNulty outlined that they had to be referenced due to legislation and that Clare County Council sought legal advice on its inclusion.

Deputy Cathal Crowe (FF) brought the subject of illegal encampments into the spotlight. He believed it was unacceptable for 5km restrictions to be breached by persons setting up such encampments. “their usual place of abode needs to ascertained and that is where they need to return to”. He recalled recent activity in Shannon which has now led to an encampment emerging in Sixmilebridge, he asked the housing authority to find room in Council owned halting sites “that would be safer and more appropriate than an encampment on the side of the road”.

Community activist Dermot Hayes responded by saying during Crowe’s sixteen year on the Council the local authority “failed abysmally to house Travellers, they have sent millions back to the Government. The responsibility lays with the local authority. Instead of condemning the Travellers at every whim on public airwaves, knuckle down and sort it, little or nothing has been achieved by the Travelling Housing Accommodation Committee”. Crowe disputed the comments and stated many instances have occurred where suitable accommodation was declined, he added that the Council “have gone above the call of duty” on the matter.

Successive Governments have “abdicated on their responsibility, they are good at passing the buck to the local authority,” Cllr Michael Begley (IND) maintained. Oireachtas members must put pressure on the Housing Minister, he felt. Questions were raised by Deputy Violet-Anne Wynne (SF) on whether a specific Travellers office has been sought from within the Housing Department by Clare County Council.

Senator Roisin Garvey (GP) explained that issues 22 years ago when she worked with Travellers continue to the present day. “It’s not black and white, some of them want to be on the side of the road and then want to be in houses and change their mind. You could build all the houses and it still wouldn’t solve it”.

A single caravan is causing “immense stress” in Ennis presently, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) outlined as generators running day and night are affecting families trying to put their children to sleep, “children can’t go out playing in a private estate because of the cars gathering around the encampment”.

Chairperson of the JPC, Cllr John Crowe said it was time to sort out the matter of illegal encampment. “There should be a Minister appointed to this to get this sorted once and for all”. McAleer observed that Traveller accommodation was the focus of a discussion on anti-social behaviour “which is the problem”. UK examples with caretakers and supervisors at serviced encampment areas should be considered, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) suggested.

Extensive engagement is carried out with the Traveller mediation service, McNulty stated. “It is in the individual’s choice to engage in mediation, we can’t force the person, on a number of times the person has refused, you can bring the horse to water but you can’t make it drink it”. She explained that there is a four stage approval process for the allocation of funding for Traveller accommodation with more than the allocation spent last year. Permanent accommodation for caravans at Ballaghboy on the Quin Rd is planned.

15 of the 59 Traveller accommodation units in Clare are vacant “with no current prospects for re-allocation,” McNulty confirmed. “There is quite a lot of inter-cultural feuding in the Traveller community in Clare which is causing a lot of issues”.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and 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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