I am not a bigot, says councillor in storm over €230,000 luxury house for Travellers
Published 18/01/2013 | 05:00
A FIANNA Fail councillor is at the centre of a racism storm after his local authority splashed out €230,000 for a luxury five-bedroom house for a Traveller family of 13.
Sean McEniff denied being a bigot after he had objected to the purchase by Donegal County Council.
The furnished house at Parkhill, just outside Ballyshannon, comes with half-an-acre of land.
Councillors have objected to the move on the grounds that it breaches the council's own planning laws.
Mr McEniff said: "I am not a racist or a bigot, but I believe Travellers should live in isolation. The council has bought this huge house for this family."
The veteran Fianna Fail councillor, a former county mayor, said there had been no consultation with councillors about the decision to buy the house.
Fine Gael councillor Barry O'Neill said: "The provision of social housing in a rural area can only be provided to a family otherwise resident in that area for between two and seven years.
"Any reading of the county development plan would lead you to believe that this decision is open to a legal challenge."
He refused to comment on the fact the family is from the Travelling community.
However, county council sources told the Irish Independent that the purchase of properties was an executive power and therefore consultation with elected members was not required.
The purchase price of €230,000 was €26,000 above the council's legally allowed limit.
However, special permission was granted by the Department of the Environment for the transaction to go ahead.
The property was originally on the open market for €270,000 and was described as a "bright, airy family home" in a brochure.
Last night one resident said: "There will be a legal challenge. Many of us have invested heavily in private homes and we feel it is unfair for a property to be offered for social housing, regardless of who is being allocated the home."
Donegal Sinn Fein TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn, whose mother came from the Travellling community, criticised Mr McEniff's comments on the purchase of the property for the family.
And Hughie Friel, a representative of Donegal Travellers Project and a member of the Traveller community, said: "Travellers are one of the most disadvantaged groups in Irish society.
"Mr McEniff is a public representative, elected by the people – and possibly by some Travellers as well.
"You would think that he would not be using defamatory and insulting comments to a whole community."