The allocation of houses costing up to €250,000 to Traveller families across the county sparked a fiery debate about the need to tackle anti-social behaviour by some individuals within the Traveller community.
Speaking at the monthly meeting of Wexford County Council, senior housing officer Padraig O'Gorman outlined the Traveller Accommodation Programme 2019-2024. He said an assessment of Traveller housing need was carried out in December which identified 99 families in need of accommodation.
Four families expressed an interest in Traveller Group Housing in the Wexford Municipal District area and the other 95 chose social housing.
Mr O'Gorman said the council aims to provide 100 accommodation units within the lifetime of the programme, 20 per year up until 2024.
'The council will build, purchase and liaise with approved housing bodies and the private sector to meet the accommodation need of families whose preferred choice is standard social housing.'
He said the programme will be reviewed by the end of 2021.
The review found there are 744 Traveller families living in Co Wexford. 638 families are currently accommodated, leaving 106 families without accommodation. 216 families live within the Enniscorthy district, 208 within the New Ross municipal area, 119 within Wexford district and 93 in the Gorey district.
Last year 52 families shared houses with relatives (15 in Enniscorthy, 11 in New Ross, nine in Wexford and 17 in Gorey) and 54 lived in unauthorised sites (14 families in Enniscorthy, 17 families in New Ross, 12 families in Wexford and 11 families in Gorey).
The number of Traveller families without accommodation has increased from 97 in 2014 to 108 in 2018.
Mr O'Gorman said: 'Wexford County Council has a responsibility for meeting the accommodation needs of the Travelling community. As part of the House Acquisitions Programme nine houses were bought throughout the county specifically for Traveller families at an approximate cost of €1.5m.'
Two of the houses were built in Castlemoyle, New Ross, at a cost of €290,980. A total of €320,000 was spent on refurbishment and upgrade works at Marshmeadows and Bunclody halting sites and at Marconi Park, Enniscorthy.
Meanwhile €75,000 was spent on major radon re-mediation works at a Traveller housing unit in an unspecified location.
Mr O'Gorman said the four dedicated housing teams active in each of the municipal district areas are complimented by a Homeless HAP place finder to assist in sourcing private rented accommodation.
Cllr Paddy Kavanagh said: 'By and large I welcome the work that is being done by the Traveller Accommodation committee but I do think where all this money is being allocated towards housing more investment is needed for areas beside where Traveller housing is located.'
He said the Drumgoold area of Enniscorthy is a no go zone at the weekend. 'We had a public representative who had an incident with protestors outside his house. While I abhor any protest outside a public representative's home we have 40 to 60 people in the Drumgoold area every Sunday who are keeping residents prisoners in their own houses as well. It's the same thing in the Irishtown area of New Ross. I have met with high level gardaí who ended up trying to solve this and one guard told me he's been stationed all over the country and he had not seen an area where people were afraid to go into their local shop. They've had to close the shop and serve through a hatch window on Sunday afternoons because of anti-social behaviour and intimidation of the staff.'
Cllr Kavanagh said some people think it's a joke when he raises issues involving Traveller individual's anti-social behaviour in Enniscorthy.
'I have highlighted this time and time again and I think it's gone beyond a joke. People have a right to enjoy their own houses. People are bringing children to the Drumgoold area and there's grabbing and other things going on. They are biting the hands that feed them. The area has had Traveller families over the years who have integrated well; a lot of them have. We have no problem with them. It's this horde of teenagers who are making life unbearable.'
Money has been allocated towards raising walls in the area to make it safer for residents, but more focus needs to be placed on the Drumgoold area, Cllr Kavanagh said, calling for a cohesive plan of action.
Cllr George Lawlor said page eight of the programme, which concerns anti-social behaviour, should be torn out.
'If we have Traveller specific accommodation we need to have Traveller specific anti-social behaviour, There's a tale of two houses in one Wexford estate. One settled family who were there six months were evicted due to anti-social behaviour and a Traveller family who have been living there for 16 years causing havoc are allowed to stay. They have destroyed the house; it could cost us €70,000 to repair it. Last night there was bare knuckle fighting on the green.'
Cllr Lawlor said the council wasn't afraid to tackle the family who were only six months in the estate, but are afraid to confront the more established family.
He said Pairc Charman is another area which has been taken over by Traveller anti-social behaviour. 'After tragic circumstances, people broke into the land and set up a camp. I had sympathy for them at the time but they are giving two fingers to the clubs, the volunteers and to us. One elderly member of the camp is setting fires. I saw someone throwing plastic in and there is a dense smell drafting over the pitch. What is their punishment? Four brand new houses costing us €1m.'
He said councillors are left with no option but to support the programme 'as you can't move forward with this unless it is adopted'.
'What is going on is above and beyond the norm,' he said.
Cllr Malcolm Byrne said Wexford County Council has exceeded its targets under its Traveller Accommodation programme.
'No matter if you are a member of the Traveller or the settled community if you break the law or engage in anti-social behaviour you should face the consequences of that. This is a council that has a very good record in terms of Traveller accommodation. We don't have a good record in terms of dealing with anti-social behaviour.'
Chairman Cllr Keith Doyle said the councillors were highlighting specific incidences and not about all Travellers.
Cllr Michael Sheehan said Wexford County Council needs to play a much more proactive role in areas like Irishtown, New Ross.
'Last night Irishtown was the scene of anti-social behaviour. The graveyard may need to be closed and sealed from 6 p.m. at night. We can't leave them open as intimidation and anti-social behaviour is out of control. Over the last year people who are in estates there are subjected to egging, verbal and physical abuse. People are terrified to go to local businesses.'
Cllr Sheehan said people are coming in to New Ross from different areas, including from neighbouring counties.
'We have limited jurisdiction but often it's our own tenants in our own estates. We need a whole new way of dealing with anti-social behaviour. People's patience and fear are starting to snap. It's only a matter of time before people have hurls and bats on the streets, taking the law into their own hands.'
Cllr Willie Fitzharris said anti-social behaviour is letting the Traveller population of Co Wexford down.
'We have a lot of successfully housed Travellers in New Ross; most have integrated very well. There does seem to be an element that comes in from other areas but it's a small majority of them that is causing a lot of problems. We have had meetings with Traveller youths and their parents. The gardaí are trying their best but some of these troublemakers know they are going to be brought to the station but are under-age so they will get away with it.'
He said no other demographic group within Irish society would get away with such behaviour.
'They just move in where they like. Now that we have the bypasses opening in Enniscorthy and New Ross there are a lot of land parcels with wide margins left as a result. Are there are plans for them because an inspection of needed of possible future camp-sites. If we could take some form of action before it happens.'
Cllr Tony Dempsey called for a seminar between representatives of the settled community, Traveller representatives and gardaí.
Cllr Michael Whelan, who is a member of the Joint Policing Committee, said: 'We have had a long conversation with the sergeant in charge and we are trying to get all parties involved. Sensationalising the issue is not helpful,' referring to Cllr Sheehan's comments concerning possible vigilantism.
Cllr Kathleen Codd Nolan said: 'We need to look at the whole support system for communities we are housing. I think Travellers need more supports than settled people including preschool, toddler and parents where a bit of training can be brought in for mothers and fathers. It's not just about the houses. You have to extend it to other supports and that will make a big difference to anti-social behaviour.'
She said if someone is living on the roadside it's very difficult to be hygienic. 'Hopefully with this plan we will be addressing this to a large extent.'
Cllr Tony Walsh said: 'I am quite shocked by the type of behaviour. I don't condone it. I know a lot of Travellers that have wonderful homes that are cleaner and more well kept than many settled people's. We should be moving forward in a constructive way. There are cultural things we can offer; recreation and other suggestions that don't cost a lot of money.'
Cllr Keith Doyle expressed fear in highlighting one particular site where people are dumping and burning items.
Director of Services for Housing John Carley said the council are working with a wide range of stakeholders to resolve anti-social behaviour issues from individuals within the county's Traveller community. A lot more resources, time and effort are needed on our part and on other agencies' parts as we can't solve this on our own. We should be providing more supports to a range of tenants and we are trying to do that.'
Mr O'Gorman said the plan concerns accommodating Traveller families specifically and not anti-social behaviour. He said €25,000 has been provided by the council to a recreation project for Travellers in Drumgoold and a community facility for children and halting site residents in Marshmeadows outside New Ross is about to be reopened.
'It had fallen into disrepair four or five times. We are talking with the FDYS and Wexford Local Development and they said they will use the facility for childcare, Traveller mens and women's health, mental health and other services. We also have a programme for a halting site in Bunclody. Joint Policing Committees are critical here for public order offences, often by people who don't reside in the area, and who are not even our tenants.'
Cllr Kavanagh said: 'If we are talking about bringing in FDYS, Tusla, I do think, in view of the fact Travellers have been recognised as an ethnic minority and as such avail of European funding, that Pavee Point and the Irish Traveller Movement, that there is an onus on these two organisations to sit down and talk with us to try and represent their people. There is an onus on these people who deliberately signage with councillors and civil servants on this issues.'
Cllr Pip Breen said according to the 2016 Census the Traveller population is doubling at twice the rate of settled people, 'so if we don't solve this now it will be too late'.
'This is about Traveller accommodation, not about the actions or reactions of the Travellers,' another councillor said.
Cllr Robbie Ireton said each district has different problems involving anti-social behaviour.
'We have a problem in my area where we have an influx of Travellers who arrive unannounced on and off and they more or less take the town over for that particular evening and we just have to stand back and anything goes.'
The plan was approved by the councillors.