06 Jul 2022

Councillor claims Offaly estates are 'hijacked' by illegal encampments

Councillor claims Offaly estates  are 'hijacked' by illegal encampments

Cement bollards have been placed around green areas in Hophill to prevent illegal encampments from moving in

Strong views were expressed at last Thursday’s Tullamore Municipal District when a motion by Cllr Tony McCormack calling for a change in legislation to deal with illegal encampments in the town was debated.

Cllr McCormack has called on the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to come to Tullamore to discuss the issue with councillors.

“I’ve been contacted many times as I’d say all councillors have, by people,who tell me of the constant intimidation, the constant anti-social behaviour, the loud music at all hours of the night, the constant running of generators, the fighting, shouting, the loud music and rubbish being left everywhere,” said the Fianna Fail representative.

“I’ve even heard of excrement being put through the front letterbox of one house. I find it hard to believe after working with local residents for the past five years that we have failed to move these encampments.

''I’ve worked with all departments of the county council, the local gardai, and other groups, but the law seems to protect the law breaker and not the local man or woman going about their business in a law abiding manner, working, paying their taxes, raising their families, and then their housing estates are hijacked by illegal encampments.

''I want the minister to come here to Tullamore to let her know what’s happening on the ground.

"I’m sure she already knows this, because it’s a problem not unique to Tullamore but right across the country. It’s a failure by the Government to deal with this issue.

“We cannot have our local residents living in fear, your home should be your sanctuary not somewhere you dread going to.”

“The mental health problems this causes is horrendous to those people suffering from this day after day. We need the minister to come here and listen to us and make the changes needed to protect our constituents,” said Cllr McCormack.

The motion was supported by Cllr Sean O’Brien. ''The fear that people have, not being able to live in their own house peacefully. We have to do something about it,'' stressed Cllr O’Brien.

He went on to say: ''I spoke to Minister Burke when he visited Tullamore and outlined the issues we have here and it really is down to the government they have to change the law. They have got to give local authorities the authority to deal with this matter in a legal manner.

“Our hands are tied behind our back; we cannot help the communities that are asking for help. Myself and Cllr McCormack and Cllr Owens attended a meeting of the Hophill residents and we had to admit there was nothing we could do for them directly, that’s a dreadful situation for a local authority to be in. They wonder what are we doing if we can’t help them.''

The Independent councillor suggested the motion be circulated to all local authorities around the country.

Cllr Frank Moran said it was ''bureaucracy that is holding things up”. “We are all getting representations from different areas within the Municipal District. Change is required and it has to come from the top down,'' said the Fianna Fail representative.

The Cathaoirleach Cllr Neil Feighery said he recently had a discussion with Ministers Burke and McEntee when they were in Tullamore.

“It’s something they are trying to grapple with. It covers a lot in terms of planning. I would suggest we write to Minister Darragh O’Brien and get both parties to talk to each other. We are increasing the number of gardai, I hope that work will continue,'' said Cllr Feighery.

He supported the call for the motion to be circulated to councils around the country adding: ''It can’t be unique to Tullamore or Offaly.''

Cllr Ken Smollen said he had spent 30 years of his life as a garda. He said he knew the hands of the gardai just like the councillors are tied.

“It is time the legislation was enacted to deal with the issue,” said the Independent councillor.

Last month an injunction was granted in Tullamore Circuit Court to local development company James Spollen Limited in relation to the occupation of land at the Cedars/Ashley Court, Tullamore.

On May 26 Judge Karen Fergus granted interlocutory orders compelling three named defendants, plus “any persons unknown” to vacate the location and not to re-enter it.

The site is now vacant and a legal notice remains there this week warning the defendants they risk imprisonment if they neglect to obey the order.

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