Wednesday, 20 January 2016
Topical Issue Debate
Louth County Council has informed me that the Woodland halting site in Dundalk was a purpose-built permanent and transient site. However, it has been vacant since 2007, when the last of the two occupants of the site at that time were accommodated by the construction of two dwellings in a group housing site at the edge of the site. The illegal occupation of this site has been ongoing since April of last year and the inspection of Woodland halting site, which gave rise to the eviction of the families last Friday on safety grounds, was conducted prior to the commencement of the review process and the publication of the project initiation document and the Guide to Fire Safety in Existing Traveller Accommodation which was commissioned by my Department after the Carrickmines fire. Legal advice was obtained by Louth County Council and junior counsel appointed. A complaint was subsequently made to An Garda Síochána, which served the notice to evict. Gardaí enforced the direction by moving caravans on Friday last, 15 January.
Since the site was occupied last year it is unclear who, in fact, has been in occupation. However, I understand that recent events have indicated that there were 28 temporary dwellings on site, occupied by 18 households. The original site has been significantly vandalised and requires substantial works to bring it back to a habitable condition. Numerous requests were made by the council over recent months that the families should leave the site but these were ignored. Recent Louth County Council Traveller accommodation programmes have not identified a demand for halting site accommodation at this location. The current Traveller accommodation programme 2014 to 2018 includes only one household which had indicated a preference for Traveller specific accommodation among all forms of social housing support available.
Louth County Council has been actively engaged with the families and their representatives to try to meet their short-term accommodation needs, while also scoping and planning for meeting their Traveller specific accommodation needs in the medium to longer term. Louth County Council met yesterday afternoon with representatives from the Travelling community concerned with Woodland Park. A number of short-term solutions were discussed and agreed at that meeting and the council is committed to continue working with the representatives of Woodland Park towards a longer term solution. At the meeting yesterday evening, a number of short-term solutions were offered which also focus on a review of the Traveller accommodation programme. To that end the council is facilitating all households and families who wish to make applications to be considered for housing or to amend their accommodation type choice. A letting agent has been appointed to assist in the sourcing of private rented accommodation. It appears that many of the households were in the private rented sector prior to their occupation of the site. Also, the council has offered to accommodate households in alternative halting sites in the county which are vacant or semi-vacant.
The local Traveller accommodation consultative committee has been convened to meet tomorrow to commence the review of the Traveller accommodation programme. The council is also commencing the capital appraisal of the Woodland halting site with regard to potentially developing it as a permanent Traveller-specific housing project and has planned meetings for the next number of days with potential partners who may assist in this regard.
The agreement reached between Louth County Council and the Traveller representatives on Friday, 15 January remains in place, and is the central focus of the work of the council in respect of Traveller accommodation. I am satisfied that Louth County Council is committed to working with the Traveller families and their representatives to ensure the provision of accommodation of their choice in which they can feel safe.