On Mount Anville Road in Goatstown, one of the wealthiest parts of Dublin, a disused site owned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which could provide around 110 apartments, lies idle.
In 2005, the site was already earmarked for a small number of homes for Travellers. In 2019, after political interventions – including in 2014 by Fine Gael TD, and current minister of state, Josepha Madigan – councillors voted to remove that designation.
Ahead of the vote by councillors in July 2019, the council’s chief executive, Philomena Poole said that selling the land – instead of building homes on it – would provide capital funding for the council.
Last week, a spokesperson said the council is now considering “a collaborative design with the Department of Education and Skills, for both a school and a housing element”, on the site.
If the council is now looking again at building homes there, local councillors and a Traveller representative say the proposal for Traveller accommodation should be resurrected.
A spokesperson for the council said it had removed the site from its Traveller Accommodation Programme after consultation with local Traveller representatives on its Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee.
They said they wanted homes near existing sites, said the council spokesperson.
“That is definitely not an accurate account,” says Geraldine Dunne, director of the Southside Travellers Action Group.
Committee minutes will show that Traveller representatives never agreed to the Mount Anville site being removed from the plans, she says.
“It’s very, very important that we get new sites that will develop new dwellings, new homes, specifically for Travellers,” she says.
Five Traveller Homes
From 2014 to 2018, in the last Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council Traveller Accommodation Programme that the Mount Anville site featured in, part of the land was set aside for five homes for Travellers.
In 2014, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, then a local election candidate and now minister of state for special education and inclusion, distributed a leaflet in which she said using the site for Traveller housing would be a “dreadful waste of taxpayers money”.
The leaflet, entitled “A waste of valuable resources”, said that plans for Traveller housing at four sites in the county were “very concerning for the residents living in the surrounding areas”.
Madigan didn’t respond last week to queries about what she thinks should be built on the site now. Neither did other local TDs, the Green Party’s Catherine Martin and Fine Gael’s Neale Richmond.
Madigan was one of many public representatives to vocally oppose Traveller housing at Mount Anville.
In 2013, according to the Dublin Gazette, then-Fianna Fáil Councillor Gerry Horkan, now a senator, said the site would be unsuitable for housing of any kind “positioned as it is on a hill on a bend”.
In 2018, then Fine Gael TD Barry Ward, now a senator, table a motion saying that the council should sell the land instead to fund its capital programme.
In January 2019 documents released under the Freedom of Information Act showed that a council spokesperson had misrepresented the meaning of a valuation of the site. Some councillors also said that the way the valuation was presented to them was misleading.
In any case, in July 2019, the council voted to remove the Mount Anville site from the Traveller Accommodation Programme.
Why did Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council abandon its longstanding plans for Traveller housing at Mount Anville?
A council spokesperson said on Friday that the council carried out a comprehensive assessment of need among Travellers in advance of drawing up the new Traveller Accommodation Programme in 2019.
“As part of this, and to facilitate meaningful consultation with the Traveller community locally and their representatives, a special sitting of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee took place,” said the council spokesperson.
“The resulting programme reflects the needs and preferences expressed by the local Traveller community during the assessment and consultation, which is to live in – or as near as possible to – the existing areas and sites on which they have been living for some time,” said the spokesperson.
The plan delivers on those by expanding and improving existing sites, said the spokesperson.
But Dunne, director of the Southside Travellers Action Group, said that statement is misleading, as it indicates that Traveller representatives on the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee agreed to Mount Anville being removed from the Traveller Accommodation Programme.
They continually opposed the site being removed, as meeting minutes would show, she says.
The current system whereby councillors can vote against much-needed Traveller housing is very unfair, she says. “It shouldn’t come down to that about people’s homes.”
There is really strong opposition to Traveller housing in particular in affluent parts of the city, she says. “People just want rich people and people looking good. It’s all to do with image.”
Dunne would like to see social homes, including Traveller homes, delivered on that site, she says.
Independent Councillor Hugh Lewis, who has chaired the LTACC for seven years, said: “I can categorically state that neither representatives of the Traveller community or the body of the LTACC as a whole ever supported its removal from the current Traveller Accommodation Programme.”
The council should correct its statement to reflect the position of the LTACC, he says.
The site should be used for social and affordable homes, including Traveller housing, which would work well with a school, he says.
Sinn Féin local representative Shaun Tracey says the party has organised several protests at the site recently to highlight that the site should be used for public housing.
“This land at Mount Anville is publicly owned and zoned for housing,” he says. “It is a disgrace that it remains idle in the midst of a major housing crisis.”
The minister for housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, has asked local authorities to identify land banks that are in public ownership to develop public housing, says Tracey.
Any new development should absolutely include some homes for Travellers, Sinn Féin’s Tracey says
A Constant Need
Many Travellers from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are living in emergency accommodation, says Dunne.
Some people are still living on the side of the road without facilities and there is serious overcrowding on sites and in houses, she says.
The council has plans to extend one site that she is aware of, she says.
Lewis says another site in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council area that was designated for Traveller housing has been deemed unsuitable by Irish Water.
A recent report by Pavee Point says the Department of Housing’s Traveller accommodation assessment doesn’t include Traveller families who are living in emergency accommodation.
“To date, homelessness has not been included in the Department of Housing’s Annual Counts of Traveller Families, something that Pavee Point believes is a major omission,” says the report.
The latest figures, from 2019 show that 1,462 Traveller families (made up of approximately 7,749 people) are living on the side of the road or doubling up in houses, the report says.
Those families are effectively homeless too and should be counted as such, says the report.
“It is important to note that Traveller families doubling/trebling up in bays, yards and facilities are not included in this dataset and therefore these figures underestimate the extent of the crisis,” says the report.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said: “There is an awareness that Travellers are notably represented amongst the homeless population.”
“The Department is working closely with local authorities to address the needs of all those experiencing homelessness, including Traveller households,” they said.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing says that the department has established a programme board to implement changes.
“The programme board has put in place a work programme for 2021 which covers 18 of the 32 recommendations,” he says.
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement says the Expert Group recommended a central and independent oversight body to monitor and oversee the delivery of Traveller accommodation, but that has not yet been established.
The Programme Board met five times in 2021 and 18 recommendations were scheduled for completion this year, he says.
“To date just 2 of the 32 recommendations in total have been implemented in full,” he says.
Earlier this year, the minister made commitments that inspired confidence in the process, he says. “But the current pace is extremely slow, and nothing has changed to quicken local authority delivery.”
Only seven units of Traveller specific group housing were built or refurbished last year, he says.
“The scale of response is inadequate to the problem where 39 percent of Travellers are living in overcrowded conditions,” he said, “and up to 50 percent of families presenting as homeless in some local authority areas now are Travellers.”