Sunday 8 December 2019

A saga that went on for far too long

Paul Deering

It was a saga which dragged on for far too long, close to 40 years.

In the mid 1980s the late Barney McGinley, his wife, Matila and family were living at the car park in the centre of Sligo.

On humanitarian grounds the county council installed running water and a toilet there for the family and in particular for Mr McGinley who wasn't in the best of health.

There was never any hot water on the site and over the eyars the family naturally expanded and up to the point of them leaving last Wednesday, four generations had been living there.

It was certainly a saga that had many twists and turns and plenty of court cases over the years with the local authority bringing cases against the family for illegal parking of caravans to the keeping of scrap in the car park.

The number of caravans grew over the years to such an extent that, in effect, the area was no longer in use as a car park despite the official line coming from the county council that it always was.

Going back through the archives of The Sligo Champion, there were plenty of column inches filled on the issue of the car park either through the aforementioned court cases or reports from local authority meetings.

Despite all the talk of local politicians, the issue wasn't moved forward at all until a change at the very top. The arrival of new Chief Executive Ciaran Hayes in 2014 certainly brought a new focus on the issue.

The public will never be privvy to the decisions taken but a new approach was adopted.

In the past couple of years, efforts were made to re-establish the council's ownership of the car park amid rumours that there may be some kind of legal action taken by the families regarding ownership of the car park.

However, no adverse possession claim ever made it to court but those rumours in the summer of 2017 emboldened a new resolve from the council.

With the assistance of up to 20 Gardai, workmen moved in to the car park in June of that year and removed a picket fence which had been erected around one of the caravans.

A general clean up of the area was also carried out as the council stamped its mark once more, reacting as it said at the time to 'numerous complaints' from the public.

Repairs and improvement to the height control barrier at the car park's entrance also took place. Attempts were also made to re paint parking spaces.

In April this year, Gardaí and workmen returned once more to the car park prompting Matilda McGinley to allege; 'We're being treated like cattle'.

A number of cars were seized and the council placed barriers after 'reclaiming' a portion of the car park.

The McGinley family were left cordoned off by large concrete kerbing to the lower part of the car park.

It was beginning to resemble a war of attrition. As soon as work was carried out it would be undone and the car park was still inaccessible to the general public.

It was to be the beginning of the end for the McGinley family at the car park.

In the background work was progressing on the refurbishment of the Alma Terrace site at Finisklin, a designated transient site and a major reconstruction on the halting site at Ash Lane.

Legal precedent ensured the council could not go to the courts and seek orders against the McGinleys unless proper alternatives were put in place.

With Finisklin ready and Ash Lane to be completed in the New Year, the council had a strong hand and it served the families with orders requesting them to leave.

A deadline was set which was extended to Thursday of last week. On Wednesday evening the McGinley family moved out to Finisklin.

It was a smooth exit in the end bringing to an end, years of discussion both in public and in private over what to do with a car park in the centre of town that had become home to a number of families.

There were plenty of bumps along the way including in more recent weeks when a home at Cartron Estate allocated to Johnny and Rosie McGinley who had lived at the car park was repeatedly vandalised to such an extent they gave up on the offer.

They also moved out of the car park and are said to be living at the Cloonamahon Halting Site.

"All we can leave behind us is memories now," said Barney McGinley junior as he pondered last Wednesday evening in the rain the last few minutes of life at the car park he called home.

"It's the start of a new journey," he said. "I know where I've come from and where I've been all my life, so it's a new start now," he added.

They'll certainly have better facilities at Finisklin than those which were in a car park.

The McGinley families always said they wished to move and it always seemed to a a solvable matter.

Sligo Champion