THE way has been cleared for purpose-built Traveller accommodation on a number of sites in the city, including a controversial former illegal dump in Ballyvolane.
Cork City Council has adopted a Traveller Accommodation Programe to run until 2024 which will see a group housing scheme for Travellers developed at Ellis’s Yard, adjacent to the Spring Lane halting site - which has been dogged by overcrowding and has been described as a “shanty town”.
Currently, 38 families comprising of over 200 people live at Spring Lane which was originally designed for just 10 families.
Ellis’s Yard was cleaned up earlier this year by the council at a cost of €53,000 after becoming one of the largest illegal tipping sites in the country but is now likely to have 10 new homes built on it for Travellers.
Funding will be sought in January and construction could start late next year.
City Hall chief executive Ann Doherty said the requirement to deal with the current living conditions and related health and safety concerns involving overcrowding for families and children on the site is “urgent, clear and without question”.
However Ms Doherty noted that there were strong objections to housing at Ellis’s Yard from local residents in Ballyvolane during the consultation period for the programme - over 90% of submissions were on this issue alone.
Many councillors described the programme as the first step in tackling Traveller housing issues but calls have been made for at least two more serviced official halting sites in the city.
The plan was passed by 26 votes to four.
Ms Doherty also confirmed the council will engage with Gardaí to “immediately investigate” persistent anti-social behaviour and criminal issues alleged in the submissions for the Traveller Accommodation Programme.
Speaking to the council chamber and the public gallery, which included members of the Travelling community, she described the issues surrounding Spring Lane as “complex” and said many public submissions suggested removing the halting site completely.
“The proposal in the programme is for the benefit of current residents of Spring Lane to alleviate the overcrowding on the site and to improve the quality of life in the surrounding area.
“The range of feedback confirms the serious and urgent issues pertaining to the existing arrangements at the halting site and the urgent need to take appropriate action to regularise and improve the position here both for the neighbouring community and also for existing residents of the site, the majority of which are young children with many attending school in the area.
“This is a most complex situation with problems identified other than housing, health and safety and welfare on the site but also alleged persistent anti - social behaviour, criminality and related safety and nuisance concerns manifest in the surrounding community, Ballyvolane in particular. Many of the submissions suggest removing in total the Traveller community in Spring Lane to an idyllic green-field Traveller homeland somewhere - but do not suggest a location,” Ms Doherty added.
Green Party representative Oliver Moran said the programme addresses Traveller accommodation in a “mature way” and is an “opportunity to undo a wrong in the city” but Labour councillor John Maher said the settled community were “not listened to” despite describing elements of the plan as positive.
Fianna Fáil’s Sean Martin urged residents to take ownership of the new developments and described facilities at Spring Lane as “terrible” and “squalor”.
However his party colleague Ken O’Flynn outlined several attempts since the early 1990s to solve issues at Spring Lane that were unsuccessful.
He said the “trust” of City Hall, the Fire Service and the Gardaí has been broken by anti-social behaviour on the site several times.
He said he would not support the programme.
Solidarity councillor Fiona Ryan said the programme is limited but the first step to addressing inequality.
Thomas Gould of Sinn Féin said the single biggest issue has been Cork City Council’s “failure” to manage Spring Lane and the number of families on the site.
“The conditions have worsened. It’s a failure by City Council and that’s why we are here. The council is now putting its best foot forward and we now need buy in from everyone. The settled community must be listened to and the Traveller community needs to have their ideas taken on board. It will not solve the Traveller housing issue. There is not enough in it. We need at least two more halting sites in the city,” Mr Gould added.
The plan also includes the replacement of the Carrigrohane Road Halting site and the identification of a new site for the development of a group housing scheme as the current site is located on a flood plain.
The refurbishment of Meelagh Group housing scheme will also take place. Lands at the rear of Meelagh are to be considered for development to cater for existing families in overcrowded homes.
In addition, the city council is currently working with the families at Corkeran’s Quay in Blackpool to relocate the families to standard accommodation.