*Ashford Court. Photograph: Gary Collins
Suitable sites for emergency accommodation must be used as elected representatives have voiced their worry at the system of housing persons at both Ashford Court and Westbrook House.
Rooms at Ashford Court Hotel have been purchased by Clare County Council to accommodate persons in need of emergency accommodation. Westbrook House continues to also be used for emergency accommodation.
Acting senior executive planner with Clare County Council, Gareth Ruane outlined that the agreement for Ashford Court is a commercial transaction and thus “is not considered a change of use in planning terms”. Further advice in relation to An Bord Pleanála stating Westbrook was not exempt from development is to be received.
An update had been sought by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) on the status of both Ashford Court and Westbrook at the April meeting of the Ennis Municipal District. He voiced their commitment to provide social housing and accommodate people in need but admitted, “I have a difficulty with housing people who need a different type of care and attention than is provided in B&Bs”.
Homeowners on the Gort Rd have been impacted by residents of Westbrook of which there are 14 adults housed, Cllr Flynn stated. “A lot of these people have very serious needs, it is not the right location for wraparound support, we have two very successful premises in Laurel Lodge and Cusack Lodge which have planning permission”. In late 2020, the Winter Initiative Project was introduced to add extra supports to facilitate and accommodate rough sleepers. This has resulted in an increase in Council rooms at Ashford.
“Toxic masculinity” has been evident, Cllr Flynn believed of the behaviour shown to nearby residents and staff. He questioned how up to 90 people in Ennis were “suddenly” homeless. He questioned what made the county town “such an attraction for this large number of people” and warned that it was becoming a magnet for anti-social behaviour. He called for a Ennis Joint Policing Committee to be established to help stamp out the problems which “affecting the freedom of women and children to walk down the streets of Ennis”.
He added, “As elected members we have all worked to put housing solutions in place, we have two homeless centres that have planning permission, of the 90 on the list, 28 are in those centres and are being cared for”.
A focus on Ennis is lacking on the Clare JPC, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) maintained. She felt the persons housed by the Council in both locations had “special needs” that were not being catered for. Violent scenes in the town were called “embarrassing” by the Quin native. The Council approach to tackling the matter was “inadequate” leading to the matter “rolling onto the streets,” she said. “As elected people we owe it to our constituents and people of Clare to address this as a matter of urgency”.
Better management of homeless services is required from the local authority, Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) said. “Nobody here is against providing services for people who find themselves in a homeless situation”.
Chosen locations “are not fair to the people of Considines Terrace, Hermitage and the Gort Rd,” Cllr Pat Daly (FF) commented. He claimed anti-social behaviour and drug dealing was ongoing. Issues in Ennis were regularly addressed by the Clare JPC, he detailed.
Life “hasn’t been easy” for the individuals in emergency accommodation, Cllr Ann Norton (IND) noted. Better communication is required between the Council and elected representatives, she insisted. Remnants of discarded illegal substances have been seen, Cllr Paul Murphy (FF) stated, “it isn’t hearsay it is matter of fact”.
Residents in houses close to Ashford Court have become frightened, Cllr Mary Howard (FG) outlined. She recently went door to door with a member of Mid-West Simon to gauge views. “I believe the winter programme has finished, the last thing we want is people living on the street, we need to find appropriate site and that was not appropriate,” she added.