20 January 2006

Newtownabbey Council urged to deal with the Traveller issue


Sinn Féin’s Briege Meehan has called on Newtownabbey Council to deal with the issue of Travellers after the Housing Executive wrote to the Council stating their wish to lease land to develop a transit site in the borough.
Since a change of legislation in 2003, the Housing Executive has assumed responsibility for the provision of transits sites for Travellers. It has identified the need for the development of five sites throughout the North, including the Greater Belfast area, which includes Newtownabbey.
Cllr Meehan urged the Council to consider providing land.
“To avoid the unnecessary hassle of illegal Travellers camps in every council area, and particularly Newtownabbey, we have a duty under the Good Friday Agreement to provide a transit site so that the Travelling community can be facilitated, and put in a situation whereby the hassle of illegal parking is avoided,” she said.
“These sites will ensure that the Travelling community and local residents do not come to loggerheads over the issue.”
Acknowledging the sensitivities surrounding the issue, Cllr Meehan said any site would have to secure the backing of both the Travellers and local residents.
“As yet there have been no sites earmarked but any site would have to be acceptable to the residents, the Council and the Housing Executive. But the bottom line is that the Housing Executive has an obligation to provide a transit site in the borough.”
But DUP councillor Jackie Mann, who sits on the Travellers issues committee, refused to be drawn on the transit site proposal.
“We don’t have land to use for Travellers. There is no land that I know of and it is something that I would have to discuss. To accommodate them you have to convert the land, put in stand pipes and toilets, but I am not saying I would object to it and I am not saying I wouldn’t. I don’t know.”
Derek Hanway from Traveller support group, An Munia Tober, said it was essential transit sites were developed in the Greater Belfast area.
“We have had examples over the last 12 to 18 months of Travellers being victimised in the public eye for illegal encamping and that is because there has been no access to transit sites across the North, so we would support the Housing Executive efforts to facilitate at least five transit sites across the North of Ireland.
He added: “Lord Rooker has said that he will not bring into effect the illegal encampment order until five transit sites are provided and it’s really crucial that we have those as soon as possible and councils like Newtownabbey have to live up to this responsibility.”

Journalist:: Evan Short

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