Row over Traveller accommodation in County Clare opens before the High Court
A dispute between Clare County Council and members of the Irish Traveller Community over a site earmarked for new social housing units has opened before the High Court.
The council's action is against Bernard and Helen McDonagh who claim they have a tenancy at a site at Ashline, Kilrush Road, Ennis, onto which they moved their caravans in November 24, 2017.
They remained at the site for a period before they moved to another site in the Ennis locality.
Ashline consisted of six dwelling units owned by the council specifically used to accommodate Traveller families.
Following a series of arson attacks, Ashline remained vacant for several years and the council had planned to build 40 new social housing units at the site.
In its action, the council seeks various orders against the McDonagh's including one granting the local authority possession of lands located at Ashline, Kilrush Road, Ennis, and a permanent injunction preventing them from moving their caravans and vehicles on the site.
The McDonagh's, represented by Niall Buckley Bl instructed by solicitor Matthew Kenny, have opposed the action.
In their counterclaim, the McDonagh's claim the site, which had been their family home for many years before they had to vacate it in 2012, is the subject of an existing tenancy agreement between them and the council. They claim the tenancy agreement was wrongfully breached by the council.
They say that a 2012 document surrendering the tenancy to the council after their home was damaged by fire was signed by them before they got a chance to take independent legal advice. They also claim that the council told them they would be able to return to live at the site after it was refurbished.
Mr Buckley told the court that local authority has consciously and knowingly acted in breach of its statutory duties under the various housing acts in respect of providing traveller specific accommodation.
There was a lack of a "political will" by the Council in regards to traveller accommodation, and the council had failed to draw down funding allocated for the development of such accommodation, counsel said.
The council, represented by James Connolly SC, denies the McDonagh's claims. Counsel said the McDonagh's unlawfully moved their caravans onto on the Ashline site in late 2017 after heavy machinery removed bollards preventing access to the property.
The McDonagh's had resided at the site, which was a designated site for Traveller accommodation, between 1997 and 2012. They left after the facility was damaged following arson attacks, and counsel said the site was unsafe to live at and uninsurable due to the damage sustained following the arson attacks.
The defendants moved on from the site to different locations in the Ennis area after the council brought High Court proceedings against the McDonagh's. In separate but related proceedings, the council also seeks orders requiring the McDonagh's to move from the locations they are currently living at on the basis that site is also unsuitable and unsafe for habitation.
While the new development at Ashline was not traveller specific accommodation, one of the proposed new units has been offered to the defendants, counsel said.
The hearing is before Mr Justice Senan Allen and is expected to last for several days.
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