Saturday 24 February 2018

Protest over council bid to house sex offender

Local residents block attempts to place man in estates 'full of kids'

Don Lavery

HUNDREDS of people are expected to protest at a meeting of Wicklow County Council tomorrow after attempts to house a convicted sex offender in the county were met with public opposition.

Residents have turned out in their hundreds to stop Wicklow County Council housing the man in council housing estates, with four failed attempts in the last month alone to place the man in a house.

Now councillors plan to have a motion passed which would give them 10 days' notice of housing allocations and transfers, and they could then inform their constituents.

However, one of the councillors involved, Labour's Jimmy O'Shaughnessy, said he had come to the view that anyone with a conviction for interfering with young children should not be housed in a local authority house.

He detailed a series of attempts by the county council to house the man in Rathnew, Redcross and in Ashford, which have all been met with huge local opposition in the Wicklow area.

On one occasion in Redcross, he said councillors had not been told when the council tried to buy a house for the man and he said there had been a huge outcry by local people.

"We are fodder at the moment for the council. We are being left in limbo in relation to this," he said.

The man was found guilty of the unlawful carnal knowledge of a minor dating back to the early 1990s and he received a six-month suspended sentence at Rathdrum District Court in September 1992.

In one incident on Thursday, angry residents besieged the house where local authorities were attempting to relocate him.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the house on the Woodview estate, Ashford, to stop the move.

Council official Catherine Halligan, from the local authority's housing division, gave assurances that the sex offender would not move to the house and that only his partner and four children were to be housed.

She said that the "appropriate checks" had been done and that the council had stipulated that the man was to be nowhere near the house.

However, many locals refused to accept her pleas and barred entry to the home, where the family were holed up in the back of a council van after failing to gain entry.

Gardai were forced to intervene and unsuccessfully attempted to move the people blocking the entrance.

One of the man's family was then taken ill after fainting and was taken away in an ambulance while the rest of the family, including three children ranging in ages from eight to 15, were escorted away by gardai.

Local woman Margaret Higgins said she could not contemplate the man coming anywhere near the area, despite the council's promises that the man was barred from the estate.

"This is absolutely dreadful, not one of the councillors informed us of these plans and this place is full of kids," she said.

"My skin is crawling just thinking about him and, I can tell you, I'll cancel my holidays next week if it means I can make sure that his family do not move in here.

"I feel sorry for the kids, but if they move in here they will not be allowed to settle by locals -- it's disgusting," she added. Another man, Martin Burton, claimed to have been waiting for a house in the area for the past six years and in that time he had suffered two heart attacks.

The man at the centre of the controversy is a close friend of another convicted sex offender who is housed in Wicklow. Locals have spotted the two men in several locations around the county, including Kilcoole, Rathnew and Wicklow town -- all areas where residents refused to allow the first man's family to relocate to.

Councillor O'Shaughnessy said he didn't know "how the problem is going to be solved."

Another man also opposed to housing the man, John Doyle, said he will be expecting a very large protest at the council offices.

Sunday Independent

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