County councillor calls for national debate on Traveller accommodation

A county councillor has called for a national debate on Traveller accommodation to take place in order to properly deal with an issue which continues to cause tensions in communities and costs the State money.

Fine Gael councillor Jimmy McClearn made the comments at the Galway County Council meeting on Monday

where the draft Traveller accommodation programme for 2014-2018 was later adopted by members.

In a presentation it was revealed that Galway’s Traveller population has increased significantly over the past 10 years, from 382 households in 2002 to 547 households in 2012, and that in another five years there will be an extra 125 families. There are currently 48 families living in the county in unauthorised sites, roadside encampments, or involuntarily sharing accommodation.

Under the

Housing (Traveller Accommodation ) Act 1990 Galway County Council has an obligation to prepare and adopt

an accommodation programme to meet the exising and projected accommodation needs of the Travelling community in the county and allow for public input. A review of the accommodation programme is expected to be carried out no later than December 31, 2016.

Before the adoption of the programme was agreed, Cllr McClearn noted that the council had put in its best efforts but said, “we’re losing the battle to deal with the issue” properly. “National policy has failed utterly,” said Cllr McClearn, before adding that there was still a lot of tension regarding Traveller accommodation in communities, and that a national debate is needed to resolve an on-going issue with has cost billions already.

Cllr Seán Ó Tuairisg (Fianna Fáil ) described how a lot of Travellers come to areas of Connemara during the summer where there is no suitable transient site for families and no waste collection or sanitary facilities. “It’s causing a lot of tension,” he said. Confirming this Cllr Seosamh Ó Laoi (Fine Gael ) said there were a large number of groups coming to the Spiddal and Casla areas during the summer and that local people were calling for barriers to stop vans driving into certain areas. Cllr Gerry Finnerty (Fianna Fáil ) explained how caravans were pulling into the side of the road along the N17 and N18 “doing what they like and it’s causing mayhem for locals”.

The accommodation programme assessment relates to the existing accommodation needs and the projected need estimate to arise across the range of Traveller accommodation options, including group and standard housing, long term leasing, rental accommodation scheme, and proposed new housing assistance payment scheme. The report noted that the council had recognised Travellers’ distinct culture and needs by providing Traveller specific accommodation in Ballygar, Loughrea,

Tuam, Abbeyknockmoy, Craughwell, Portumna, Clontuskert, and Athenry. It added that the incidence of roadside

or unauthorised encampments was “relatively infrequent in Galway with no discernable pattern arising”.

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