*Photograph: The Clare Echo
OVER €200,000 has been spent by Clare County Council as part of a legal battle with the occupants of an illegal encampment in Ennis.
An illegal encampment has been in place at Ashline by the Kilrush Rd roundabout in Ennis since August 2018. An eviction of the tenants was previously ruled by The High Court and backed by the Court of Appeal in November 2021.
In the eyes of Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), “it is an example of an unequal application of the law”. She detailed that to date it has cost Clare County Council over €200,000 in legal fees. At Tuesday’s meeting of the Ennis MD, she sought an update on the Council’s “legal efforts to address the longstanding illegal encampment on the Kilrush Road”.
Acting senior executive officer in the social development directorate, Padraig MaCormaic advised, “Currently there are High Court and Court of Appeal orders, as modified by a Supreme Court judgement, prohibiting trespass and unauthorised development by any persons other than one named household and a carer. I wish to advise that reports are being obtained in relation to additional unauthorised occupants at the site with a view to enforcing the existing Court Orders against those to whom the Supreme Court judgment and Order does not apply, subject to the findings of those reports”.
Housing needs assessment of all occupants is under review, he confirmed. “The intention is that the matter will be referred back to the High Court in the coming months to seek Court Orders with regard to the trespass and unauthorised development, having regard to the issues raised by the Supreme Court in its judgment. I can also confirm that as part of this process notices were issued in recent weeks to a number of occupants on the site in relation to both illegal occupation of the site and further and ongoing unauthorised developments on the site”.
On the costs, he detailed that they haven’t jumped massively from €200,000 in the past twelve months but warned, “they will jump massively in the next six months. When you’re going to courts in Dublin the costs are enormous, daily rates for barristers are quite expensive”.
Expansion of the encampment has been observed, Cllr Colleran Molloy noted, “residents are concerned that it is getting bigger and bigger”. She called for MacCormaic to be brought before the meeting to further explain the detail behind the reply and her request was accepted.
Quizzing the Council official, Cllr Colleran Molloy queried, “We know the Supreme Court issued a judgement pertaining to the then existing residents and a carer. On one hand could you tell us what is going on with that household and a carer. We are all getting calls about additional new households moving in there, in your response you’re saying notices have been issued to additional occupants and proceedings likely to pursue from there. Will there be separate proceedings from the existing proceedings? Will it require additional resources from the Council to pursue”.
Seconding the proposal, Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF) advised they had all been contacted regarding “health and safety concerns” at the site. “I understand the litigation that it can be an absolute minefield, I understand there is a housing need for these people but one thing is for certain that we have to make an example,” he stated.
Neighbours are finding it very difficult, Cllr Ann Norton (IND) highlighted. “It is going on for so long and I know that we have been watching this illegal encampment grow and then disperse, then grow again and disperse, we’ve seen the portaloos going in, we’ve seen that the people in the illegal encampment have done works themselves by putting in gravel, having electricity and we’ve questioned all this many times over the last number of years”. She told the meeting her parents who reside in Ballybeg can see “right into the illegal encampment”.
She continued, “their neighbours find it very difficult when they see that even though a judgement has been given that nothing seems to be doable to remove this encampment. I’ve had issues at stages walking with my own daughter because of a car being parked on the footpath and having to take her off the footpath in a wheelchair, very difficult and very dangerous because I have to take her off the footpath, onto the road and back on without level ground. On a safety element for pedestrians it is causing problems, it is very difficult for residents to put up with this, if it was anybody else, if I decided to park a caravan on a piece of land then I would not get away with what they have got away with, they were at the other side of the bridge and moved to the other side of the bridge, it is so frustrating for people to see how certain people can get away with breaking the law when others would be crucified by the court system if they were doing this, it is absolutely outrageous what is going on, I know the Council have done everything in their power and it is costing Clare County Council a fortune in legal fees, it could be going to so much more benefit in this town and is instead going towards a court case”.
According to Cllr Mary Howard (FG), “the money spent on this could have been used to house forty families at this stage, it has cost a small fortune”. She added, “It is going on so long, ye are getting so far and there is push back again”.
Mayor of the Ennis MD, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) labelled the court system as “so confusing”. He stated, “it is going from the High Court to the Supreme Court every time and it is a costly business”. Daly added, “These people are breaking the law and the only winner is the barristers because they are laughing all the way to the bank. If I broke the law, I’d be arrested and if I took over that land I’d be in prison in the morning”.
Addressing the meeting, MacCormaic advised that it was “extremely complex”. He said, “I’m not a legal mind and not a barrister so we’ve to depend completely on the advice of our legal team at a massive expense. We went to the courts in 2018 and High Court seeking injunction, they were appealed to Supreme Court”. During the lockdown, evictions were paused which allowed “more families” to move into the encampment. “There are a number of issues, health and safety, road safety, planning enforcement, anti-social behaviour, trespassing, all matters which are beyond the housing department”.
He confirmed that they are working with An Garda Síochána on the matter. “We do have a difficulty and we have this all around the county with anti-social behaviour, we can’t get local residents whose lives have been impacted to come forward in writing, it would add greatly to any case if the people directly affected could come forward. Our hands have been tied because of a lack of willingness or a fear of doing so”.
Two caravans have left and a marquee has been removed, Padraig advised. Reports are to be prepared for the Council’s legal team. There are more examples than Ashline across the county, he noted. “Every local authority in the country is watching the case in Clare. Proportionality is the effect of moving people off Council lands and a detrimental effect to their lands, if we can provide housing that they are agreeable to then it will be very difficult to move them”.
He predicted that the matter would likely finish before the Supreme Court, “I can’t predict what a judge will say”. He added, “This is not just in Kilrush Rd, it is a number of locations that have been discussed at Shannon MD and West Clare MD meetings, I get small criticism from residents that we’re not acting fast enough, the legal system is a slow process, everywhere you go you find obstacles”.