By-election candidate apologises for comments on Traveller housing scheme being scrapped in her area

By-election candidate apologises for comments on Traveller housing scheme being scrapped in her area
Fine Gael candidate Emer Higgins. Picture: PA

A Fine Gael councillor and by-election candidate has apologised after she boasted and expressed her “delight” at a Traveller housing scheme being scrapped in her area.

Cllr Emer Higgins, contesting the by-election in Dublin Mid-West, wrote a letter to residents in her area in 2014 and described the decision of the council as a “victory for the community.”

In a statement to the Irish Examiner on Tuesday night, Cllr Higgins said that she apologised for offence caused by her comments.

“Straight up, this was about the Council moving forward with new plans in an estate which hadn’t even met the conditions of the first scheme. In 2014, when the country was littered with unfinished ghost estates and negative equity, distressed mortgages and repossessions were a big fear in my area,” she said.

My language was insensitive and did upset people and I apologised for that at the time.

The letter, being circulated on social media, was dated Friday 4 April 2014 and heralded the decision of Dublin South County Council not to proceed with a 10-house Traveller Housing scheme in Ballynakelly.

“I am delighted to announce that the Council are no longer considering purchasing these houses off the developer for development as a Traveller scheme,” she wrote in bold writing.

She boasted she had been working hard with residents from the estate to put together a strong case to the council to demonstrate that the proposed development was “unsuitable”.

“Local residents provided a submission to the Council which outlined this case and I would like to congratulate them, in particular their core steering group on putting forward a strong and well-articulated submission,” Cllr Higgins wrote.

“Residents worked constructively with local authorities with local politicians and together the councillors who supported their position and the residents delivered a victory for the community,” she again wrote in bold writing.

Among the reasons given by Cllr Higgins as to why the scheme was unsuitable were:

  • The planning conditions of the original estate have not been fulfilled and further development should not be permitted until they are met;
  • The ratio of housing schemes to privately owned units already exceeds that allowed for in the planning permission and is already in excess of what is provided for in legislation and;
  • Parking problems and anti-social behaviour is already an issue in certain parts of the estate.

A comment from Cllr Higgins was sought and is awaited.

Ms Higgins is running to retain the seat vacated by former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald who was elected to the European Parliament in May.

At the time, Fine Gael disassociated itself from Cllr Higgins’s comments and from those made earlier in 2014 by current Arts Minister Josepha Madigan, who was then a councillor in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Ms Madigan had described plans to build Traveller accommodation on a valuable site on leafy Mount Anville Road as a “dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”. She was appointed to cabinet last week following Fitzgerald’s resignation.

Both women’s comments were criticised in 2014 by Travellers’ representatives.

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