Axe thrown at official working on halting site

Picture: Denis Scannell

City officials have revealed a damning catalogue of obstruction, threats, and intimidation which have thwarted efforts to resolve issues at what has been branded Ireland’s worst Traveller halting site.

An axe was thrown at one contractor working on the Spring Lane site in Cork City, and a pellet gun was involved in another incident, forcing contractors to withdraw.

The incidents are contained in a report compiled by Cork City Council’s head of housing, Valerie O’Sullivan, which was discussed by councillors on Monday.

It prompted renewed calls for fresh roundtable talks involving Travellers, their representatives, and council officials in a bid to break the impasse.

Developed as a 10-bay halting site, unauthorised expansion over the years has seen it become home to some 32 family groups comprising 150 people, including more than 90 children.

Its residents have complained of overcrowding, and of various health and safety issues, including an unsafe electrical system, an unprotected lagoon of waste water, and a dangerous overhanging cliff.

In her report, Ms O’Sullivan states the overcrowding has led to very unsafe practices by the occupants, including ad hoc connection of electricity cables to existing power sources and the unauthorised expansion of the site into areas under or near a cliff face.

She says the council has tried to resolve the various issues but been frustrated, leading to substantial cost overruns on contracts, and the triggering of several court proceedings.

Delays caused one electrical contract to soar 98% — rising from €171,820 to €340,000. Four court dates were required to secure an injunction to support contractors engaged in cliff face stabilisation works. The council has made 13 court appearances in relation to the site since December 2014.

The city fire service was called to the site 46 times last year to deal with 39 fires, and seven false alarms. The council spent €620,000 removing illegally dumped waste from nearby Ellis’s Yard between January 2003 and February 2015.

As well as repeat antisocial behaviour, the report cites severe and regular intimidation of contractors and council officials.

The site was the subject of a major inter-agency review last year, and a housing assessment survey by Respond, but certain recommendations cannot be implemented for planning reasons.

Ms O’Sullivan said the council hopes to replicate the €5m group housing scheme which was developed for Travellers in Hollyhill last year but that it will not be able to accommodate all 32 families. Until the numbers are reduced to a maximum of 15, plans for the group housing scheme cannot be advanced, she said.

“The council faces a significant challenge in reducing the number of families currently on site to a level which can accommodate its future development and ensure its safety,” she said.

Ms O’Sullivan’s report points out that while 54 people on site are housing applicants, 16 of 25 offers of housing made to residents on the housing list since 2010 have been rejected.

She told councillors her officials will continue to offer housing to eligible applicants but that legal action may be required to remove certain families.

Traveller advocates said the report does not present the full picture but declined to comment further.

Timeline of events at Spring Lane

December 2013 to January 2014: Halting site residents employed a plant and machinery operator to create a new area expanding the halting site northwards. Works were carried out over a weekend. The works destabilised the cliff-face, and as a result, it had to be secured, and families relocated.

February 2015: Numerous incidents of theft of materials on February 5, 9, 11, and 16 from contractors involved in cliff works. They were not serious enough to halt the works, but they were a safety hazard and hampered the completion of the works.

February 18, 2015: An axe was thrown at a contractor by a halting site resident.

March 5, 2015: A contractor was blocked from installing ducting into the power supply hut. Gardaí were called to resolve a standoff after residents parked a trailer and a car to block the works.

July 15, 2015: Contractors halted work after children were found playing on construction machinery, and an attack involving a pellet gun.

September 2, 2015: Works halted after theft of materials including shovels, brushes, fencing, barriers, plywood, and concrete. Incidents of abusive and threatening behaviour from certain residents.

September 21, 2015: Works halted after threatening and abusive behaviour by residents.

December 27, 2015: Feuding on site. Four families were forced to leave the halting site.


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