New halting site in the pipeline for Travellers

A new halting site and houses for Travellers will be built in the city within the next two years, Galway City Council is proposing.

The local authority’s Traveller Accommodation Plan identifies sites in Ballybane, Doughiska and Knocknacarra to meet the needs of the city’s Traveller population.

The plan wasn’t discussed as planned at last week’s Council meeting, but a local senator and General Election candidate issued a statement which forced the issue of Traveller accommodation onto the political agenda.

Independent Senator Fidelma Healy Eames has questioned the logic of spending €11 million on one of the sites earmarked for Traveller housing.

The Traveller accommodation issue came to prominence again in recent weeks when several families moved to an unauthorised site in Knocknacarra, before camping outside City Hall and now to Ballyloughane Beach in Renmore.

The families, including about 15 adults and 20 children, brought their caravan cavalcade to Millar’s Lane following their eviction from outside the Barna Waste facility on the Headford Road on January 22.

In a briefing circulated to councillors, Director of Services, Tom Connell said the housing needs of the families would be addressed through homeless services.

“The families concerned have relatively recently come onto the housing waiting list . . . the City Council will continue to seek and find suitable accommodation for the families through the current social housing measures that are available.

“It should be noted that there are existing members of the Travelling community who have been on the Council’s waiting list for a considerable period and there must be fairness and equality in addressing and meeting their needs and in respecting their position on the waiting list. There is no one solution to deal with the housing needs of the Travelling community. It will require an integrated approach with a variety of housing measures and this will require time to deliver,” said Mr Connell.

He outlined plans for the development of a six or eight bay halting site at land recently acquired by the Council at Ballybane will be advanced.

He said the Council will also prepare and advance plans for a mix of social and voluntary houses along with Traveller-specific accommodation on the Doughiska Road, opposite the existing halting site.

Mr Connell said an objective of the Council’s is the development of a “Traveller-specific group housing scheme” on land it owns at Keeraun on the Ballymoneen Road. Existing halting sites will also be refurbished, he said.

The fresh plans for the Knocknacarra site have drawn the ire of Senator Healy Eames who has questioned the Council’s competence to deliver value for money for taxpayers, and a “fair outcome” to the 4,500 households on the city’s housing waiting list.

She said the Keeraun site was purchased by the Council in 2008 for €11 million, which equates to €1.4 million per acre.

“A portion of the land can’t be developed at all because of its environmental status and the proposed route of the city bypass cuts through this land, which means only between 10 and 13 houses can be developed at this site,” she said.

Senator Healy Eames it was a “laudable purpose” to purchase the land but the emerging picture is that if the site is developed, each of the new homes will cost “in excess of €1 million each”.

This would be a “flagrant abuse of taxpayers’ money and very poor planning”.

She has called on the City Council to clarify the price paid for the land, whether it is in a Special Area of Conservation and whether the bypass will cut through it.

“We need answers now in fairness to the ratepayers and taxpayers who paid for it,” she added.