New halting sites law for Irish Travellers

In September, the Irish government passed a new law, the "Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act", which obliges all local authorities to adopt a concrete proposal for a five year programme to create halting sites. If the local elected authorities fail to adopt such a proposal within a given time period, the task will be passed to civil servants, whose proposals generally involve much higher numbers of halting sites. According to a press release of the Irish Government, at the end of November 1997 (prior to the Act), 3,394 Traveller families were in local authority accommodation, while 1,127 families were living on the roadside.

According to The Irish Times, the policy has so far been effective in making authorities adopt plans for halting sites. For example, the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority in county Dublin already has plans for nine sites. Mr Eamon Gilmore TD, a representative of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, pointed out in The Irish Times report of September 21, 1998 that the major advantage of this act was that "Under the Act it will be illegal for travellers to halt on the side of the road or public space within a mile of an existing halting site". Mr Gilmore believes that this fact will get rid of "problems associated with many of the larger encampments".

Meanwhile in Killiney Hill, Co. Dublin, a halting site had been proposed in a former granite quarry, currently used by climbers and campers. On September 21, The Irish Times reported that the local residents had applied for a Special Area Amenity Order (SAAO), claiming that the quarry was an area of natural beauty. The introduction of an SAAO for the area would mean that no halting sites could be established there. The process takes a few years and in the meantime the authority may not make plans to build halting sites in the area. Ms Betty Coffey, who tabled the proposal, admitted to The Irish Times that the SAAO was being sought in order to stop the proposed halting site as well as to preserve the natural environment. She claimed that her intentions were "a bit of both, to frustrate the halting site plans and to protect the wonderful amenity that is Killiney and Dalkey Hill." (ERRC, The Irish Times)

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