Andy Cash squeezes through a gap, behind a wall of concrete blocks.
There is an open space there – where, years back, he used to live in a house, and weeks back, in a roomy caravan.
By late last month though, he and his wife Ann Cash were in a cramped caravan, much smaller and with no facilities, parked on the public road in Labre Park, a few metres away.
This end of Labre Park is likely to be the first area to be redeveloped under long-promised plans to rebuild one of the country’s oldest Traveller accommodation sites in Ballyfermot.
Details are still being ironed out but, for some, the project led by Dublin City Council and Clúid Housing should mean a new home and better facilities.
For the Cashes, though, the future is uncertain. He and his wife, in their 50s, keep being moved on by the council. But they’ve nowhere else to go, he says.
Many of his relatives live on the site. “All my roots are here,” he says. “I live here.”
And “my grandfather died here, my father and mother they lived here, they died here. My sisters died here. So I’m going to die here”, he said, on a Friday in January.
Over the previous two days, Cash had compiled a petition of 53 signatures – there are roughly 75 adults living on the site – from his neighbours, supportive of his bid to be allowed to stay.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the list of who will be accommodated at Labre Park after the redevelopment was set in late 2016, in consultation with the community.
“Any movement by persons or families onto the site since then would be deemed to be unauthorised and not considered in the regeneration plan,” they said.
Having to Leave
Cash grew up in Labre Park. He moved in as a child in 1967, when the site was built, with his mother, father and siblings. “I was reared here,” he says.
After he married Ann Cash in the 1983, and the couple had their first child, they moved a few doors down. Later, the family grew, with four more children.
When they came back from a family holiday in the early 2000s, the house was burnt out. Cash says they were told the council would rebuild it, and that the Cashes would be contacted when they could move back. “They never did,” he says.
After that, a Dublin City Council social worker wrote to South Dublin County Council noting that they had been made homeless “through no fault of their own”, says the letter from the time.
It asked for them to be transferred to that council’s housing list – with the time they had already spent here counted, too. The family “do not wish to return to Labre Park” and wanted to live in standard housing in Tallaght, it says.
Cash gives a different account. “He knew I wanted to move back,” he says, of the official in charge at the time.
The family was told to get private accommodation and they did, Cash says. After that, they didn’t hear anything more about returning, he says. “I was 14 years up there,” he says. “I didn’t want to be up there, I wanted to be here.”
In 2017, he and his family had to move out of their house in Tallaght, he says. “The landlord sold the house to different people, you know.”
With nowhere else to go, he and his family returned to Labre Park, to the bay they had been burnt out from – which was empty.
The house had never been rebuilt. Instead, the base had been concreted over. “I put the trailer back,” says Cash. “I was reared here, I wouldn’t live no place else.”
Notice to Move On
On 13 January this year, the Cashes had moved out of the bay at Labre Park after Dublin City Council had issued section 10 notices – and took them to court – telling them their caravan was unauthorised, and that they had to move.
When councils want to move on – or evict – Travellers in caravans or trailers who have moved onto housing sites or public land and roads without permission, they may hand out what’s known as a Section 10 notice.
There has been an almost four-fold increase in the number of Section 10 notices issued by Dublin four local councils over the last three years – although Dublin City Council is an outlier, with a decrease in 2019 from past years.
Critics have raised concerns about the lack of alternative appropriate options for Travellers, whether transient sites or council-built schemes, the lack of safeguards and recourse for those served with Section 10 notices, and families being pushed into more precarious living situations, or even homelessness.
Councils should be taking a humanitarian approach to Traveller families in these situations – liaising to work out how to make sure their needs can be met, Bernard Joyce, the head of the Irish Traveller Movement has said.
“We know that delivering accommodation and new sites, that’s not coming on stream quick enough, fast enough,” he says.
When it is, it’s taking years and years, he says. “By that stage even when the new site and new group housing scheme comes on, it already hasn’t met the demand that is now there.”
An explanatory note from Dublin City Council’s Pat Teehan, manager of the Traveller Accommodation Unit, says that “every effort is made to reach a mutually agreeable solution” when it issues Section 10 notices. Only two cases have gone to court since mid-2017, he says.
Dublin City Council’s procedures say that they first try to talk to “unauthorised occupants to determine their needs”. They’ll be told they have to move if they are in breach, and will be issued with a Section 10 notice if they don’t.
The procedures note that contacts can be informal or formal such as by phone “to keep communications open and as friendly as possible”. But “unauthorised occupants should be made aware that all legal options will be used to remove them for the site”, it says.
When Dublin City Council first issued Cash and his wife with a Section 10 notice, Cash says he just took it and didn’t do anything. “I didn’t want no fight.”
After much time passed with no agreement, the council took Cash to court. Cash said he couldn’t afford a lawyer so applied for free legal aid.
Delivery of Post to Labre Park can be unreliable though – a common complaint in Traveller housing schemes – so Cash only learnt a day after a hearing that he wouldn’t be getting representation, he says.
On the sidelines of a hearing, Cash said council representatives told him they had a strong case against him.
He was going to lose – and he was better off heading back to Tallaght, where he was number one on the social-housing list. “That’s what he said to me,” says Cash.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that the Cashes “were advised to discuss their housing application with South Dublin County Council”.
Based on that, Cash asked for a month’s grace, he said. To check if he was number one on the list in Tallaght and should move back, he said.
“I checked it up, I’m not on the list in Tallaght as well,” he says. He was taken off in 2018, when he didn’t return a housing needs assessment form, he says. Emails show that they’ve appealed that to try to get back on a housing list.
At first, Cash didn’t move out. But when he risked being held in contempt of court, and put behind bars, he sold his big caravan and left the bay.
He moved into the smaller caravan, parked up nearby on the small road. “I would have gone to jail myself, but they’d want to put my wife in jail,” he says.
On that Friday in late January, Andy and Ann Cash’s short caravan was parked on the small public road, next to a grey corrugated wall.
The corner of Labre Park Traveller housing site in Ballyfermot was quiet, near-deserted.
Either side of the street, old bays had been blocked off with giant squares of concrete – including the patch of land several metres away and over the road where, until recently, the family had lived in their larger 40ft caravan.
The Labre Park redevelopment was first mooted in 2004. Families were living without basic facilities, water, sanitation, and electricity. Progress has been slow on plans.
Under current designs, the plan is for 24 houses and two bays on the redeveloped site, says Dublin City Council’s current Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP). A council report says there’ll be 28 units – with the project expected to go to next stage of planning early this year.
Cash says that he wants to be included in the regeneration. He didn’t want to be moved on without an assurance that he could come back to his home, close to family, he says.
He and his wife have nowhere else to live, he says. “I just want to get my name down for a house here.”
“If they want me to move off, until the houses are built and put back in, I’d move somewhere on the roads,” he says.
He hesitates – as if unsure what to press for, what to expect. Or, he’d take temporary accommodation, he says.
If they’ll only give him a letter of comfort, telling him that he’ll be able to come back home so he knows there’ll be somewhere in the future, he says. “So they can’t go back on it.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the list of who will be accommodated in Labre Park after the regeneration has already been agreed, based on consultations in late 2016.
“Every person and family living on the site in December 2016 is very aware of where they will live, the type of accommodation in which they will reside and who their immediate neighbours will be,” said a council spokesperson.
“Some future proofing was built into the plan,” said a council spokesperson.
They didn’t say how many extra homes are being built as part of the future-proofing. Some families may also decide if they are relocating, to not move back – which could free up some allocated homes, too.
But the council is “not in a position to discuss future allocations until the scheme is complete”, they said. At that stage, the council’s current rules for allocating homes, known as its “scheme of lettings” will kick in.
It’s unclear whether there are many people currently living in Labre Park who may have moved there since the list was drawn up, and so wouldn’t be accommodated within the planned regeneration.
“There are no figures at present to adequately answer this query,” said a council spokesperson, last week.
Moved on Again
For Cash, the most important thing in his life is being near his family, he says. As he talks, his phone starts to buzz in the inside pocket of his coat.
A young voice chatters away on the other end of the line. His two little grandchildren, 8 and 9, call to talk to him and his wife each day on the phone – often more than once, he says.
“I can’t live without them,” he says. “If you’re as close as I am to my family … My grandchildren, they’re my life.”
They used to spend a lot of time with them, he says, when they had the 40ft caravan with three bedrooms.
“There was always plenty of room for them to stay here,” he says. “Now, the little caravan has one bunk-bed like that there. It’s tiny, they can’t stay there.”
In the small caravan where he and his wife are now living, there are “No toilets, no water,” Cash said, on that recent Friday. “We have to go across to get water from the people across the road from us.”
Would they be allowed to stay there? A spokesperson said that the council was advised that the couple “was reverting to South Dublin County Council”.
The Cashes have been given contact details for Dublin Region Homeless Executive “to address their immediate accommodation needs”, they said.
“The city council will not comment on what actions it may or may not take in relation to parties who are present on a site illegally,” said a council spokesperson.
A few days later, on 31 January, the couple got a notice from the council, telling them that they had to leave Labre Park, and the surrounding area, within seven days. Otherwise, the council would go back to court, it said.
On Monday, Cash said they now plan to move down the road a mile or so, to the safest spot he can find.
“I can’t pull outside any place because I’m afraid I’ll be attacked,” he said. “I could be beaten up.”
It’s unclear if they will be moved again from there, too.
We've been covering stories like this since 2015, addressing the important issues in Ireland's capital. The work we do isn't possible without our subscribers. We're a reader funded cooperative. We are not funded or influenced by advertising.
For as little as the price of a pint every month, you can support local journalism in your city.