A Traveller couple living on a ‘tip’ of a halting site in County Galway have appealed to the authorities to find them a proper home.
Newlyweds Martin and Ann-Louise Ward say they are living in squalor at Capira temporary halting site in Portumna, despite Galway County Council recently carrying out an upgrade worth €125,000.
They are one of three families (eight adults and three children) living at the halting site because they say they have nowhere else to go. They have no use of shower facilities on-site, there is a sewage problem with the toilet facilities and a problem with rats.
“There was construction work recently on the site and that has stirred up a rat problem. We are concerned that a nest of rats has been disturbed – we can hear them at night,” she said.
The Wards agreed they are living at the County Council site without authorisation but said they have nowhere else to go.
“We’ve effectively been homeless for two and a half years,” said Ms Ward.
She said they want to start a family but have had to delay it until they are housed. “The thought of putting children through this is unthinkable so it has been put on hold,” said Ms Ward.
“We don’t want to be here. We just want to settle down. The site is like a tip. We’ve cleaned it since the last tenants moved on to Dublin but it’s not a safe place to live in.
“The water isn’t drinkable – there’s a strange white chalk in it. We don’t have any shower facilities. If we want to wash we have to go to the nearby gym or we have to use the public showers at the Shannon. We don’t have a washing machine and we have to wash our clothes in the town once a week.
“During the snow and Storm Ophelia this year we had no electricity, it was so cold in the caravan. The site is neglected. I’m five foot two and the grass is up to my waist.
“We have asked Galway County Council but they said they cannot help us. We don’t want to be there but we’ve nowhere else to go. We are there illegally, none of us have a tenancy, but where else can we go? I want to be housed. I want a home. I’m from Tuam and my husband is from Galway City and all we want is somewhere to live and start a family,” she said.
Fiona Whyte has three children and a Traveller partner, who have been living at Capira for three months, having previously been on the side of the road in a caravan. Ms Whyte doesn’t have tenancy but doesn’t want to be there either.
“It’s not safe for my children. I’ve a toddler and a child going to school and they can’t even go outside to play. The state of the place. The Council workers wouldn’t live here and yet they expect us to put up with these conditions. It’s not being maintained, there is construction going on here and it’s not safe. The water is contaminated. We’ve been on the waiting list for years. I need a house. I need a home. The Council just keep ignoring us,” said Ms Whyte.
A spokesperson for the County Council said stage One of works at Capira temporary halting site commenced earlier this year. These works involved converting two of the four existing welfare units to provide shower facilities and enhance the kitchen and dining area and toilet facilities, doubling the size of the welfare units.
The contract costs for these works was €125,000 and the works are now substantially complete, resulting in a significant improvement in facilities. The plan is, subject to funding from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, to advance stage two of the works over the coming months.
These proposed works include the renovation of the two remaining units to the standard provided by the works carried out in stage one, together with surface water drainage works and other site improvements.
The spokesperson added: “The responsibility for the maintenance of the site is a shared responsibility between the Council and the residents.
“The site can only be appropriately maintained with the input and co-operation of all the residents. There are currently a number of unauthorised occupiers on site and this has presented challenges in the Council’s ongoing efforts to manage and maintain the site.
“The water supply at the site is from a public mains. The Council has never received any prior reports of poor-quality supply, however, the issue will be referred to Irish Water.”
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‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.