AN ENNIS TRAVELLER family have had their appeal against an eviction upheld by the Supreme Court.
In what is viewed as a significant ruling, five Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in favour of the McDonagh family from Ennis. The case focused on their unauthorised presence on a Clare Council-owned site, having not been provided with appropriate accommodation by the Council elsewhere.
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.
Giving the court’s decision, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan said the lower courts had erred in their decisions that the McDonagh’s had not raised a fair case in the context of the injunction application. Mr. Justice Hogan set out that if an injunction allowing the eviction to occur was lifted, the McDonaghs would have nowhere else to go without necessarily trespassing on someone else’s lands.
“This judgment is being delivered just over 100 years since the first Provisional Government for an independent Irish State was called into being. It is nonetheless salutary to reflect that one hundred years later a distinct group – the Irish Traveller community – still remains a vulnerable minority at the margins of Irish society. The members of that community have struggled for recognition of their own cultural identity and way of life,” Mr Justice Hogan stated.
Central to the appeal was the Supreme Court’s examination of whether a local authority was obliged to consider the impact of eviction on persons such as the applicants and their prospects for obtaining lawful accommodation elsewhere, as well as the Council’s own interests, powers and obligations both as landowner and as housing and planning authority.
Monday’s ruling sets 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.
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.
In its legal role as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (the Commission) argued that Clare County Council failed in its statutory obligations to properly and proportionately assess the rights of a Traveller family before invoking planning laws to evict them from a site in the county.
Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated, “This ruling sets out that it is not enough for a Local Authority to evict Traveller families from public land without any thought of their accommodation needs and requirements. The Supreme Court is clear that the Local Authority is the housing body, and it has an obligation to offer suitable accommodation. This obligation must be fulfilled rather than side-stepped. Councils across the country are failing to properly and appropriately address Traveller accommodation. People are being left to live in conditions which ultimately damage their health, their children’s health, impact their access to education, employment and their quality of life. This has to stop”.
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.