Dublin City Council’s plans for three new homes for Traveller families on Naas Road in Bluebell date back at least as far as September 2018.
They’re noted in a report from the council’s Traveller Accommodation Unit at the time but, it says, there was a “Possible problem connecting to main sewers being investigated”.
Three years later, a written update at a meeting of the council’s housing committee last month said that the project “cannot be fulfilled” at the moment.
The issue, still? Linking in to the sewer connection, said Pat Teehan, the head of the Traveller Accommodation Unit, at the meeting.
The connection to the main sewer is under the public footpath outside a housing complex called Grove Court, which is next door to the plot.
That sewer line is still privately owned by residents there, Teehan said. “They refused to allow us to access that connection.”
Shay L’Estrange, coordinator of the Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project (BTAP), said: “There’s a desperate need for Traveller accommodation.” And Dublin City Council has not met it, he says.
Families across the city are crowded into unsuitable and often poor accommodation. Recent research commissioned by Pavee Point suggests that almost 40 percent of Travellers, nationwide, are in effect homeless.
Just three new homes are planned for the plot on Naas Road. That’s miniscule, says L’Estrange, but given how council officials keep saying there’s no land for new Traveller housing, they would be very welcome.
“We’ve been advised that the council is searching for land all over the city at the moment and can’t find any,” he says.
Blocked, but Why?
One reason that Dublin City Council hasn’t in recent years used its yearly budget on Traveller accommodation appears to be “pressure from the settled community”, says a recent equality review by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC).
“This is suggested in the reported refusal of the residents in Grove Court to give permission for a necessary connection to the Grove Court main sewer line, which is in the ownership of Grove Court development,” the report says.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan said that from what was said at the housing committee meeting, it sounded as if residents were blocking access to the private sewer line.
“The settled community blocking access to a basic human right – water, sewage, ” he says. “It leaves a bad taste.”
Pinning down whether or not people’s actions are motivated by racism can be tricky, he says.
People rarely say they don’t want Travellers to live near them because they are Travellers, Doolan says. “Say it’s access to infrastructure, to wastewater, it’s far harder to deal with.”
Last Thursday, early in the afternoon, residents who answered the doors at two of the Grove Court homes said they didn’t want to talk on the record about the sewer connection and their views on the proposals or whether the result was discriminatory.
At the housing committee meeting, Teehan said the council would have to wait until it can access that connection to develop the site – and suggested that it was, at the moment, out of the council’s hands.
“We can’t do anything until Irish Water take it in charge,” he told councillors. “Taking in charge” is when responsibility for the infrastructure and its upkeep passes to a government body.
Then, the council can apply to make a connection, which they believe would be approved, he said.
Independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud said that councillors haven’t been given a timeline for when Irish Water will take the sewer line in charge.
A spokesperson for Irish Water said it is up to the council to first take residential developments in charge and then responsibility is signed over to Irish Water. They pointed to a 2014 department circular.
A spokesperson for the council didn’t address a query as to whether the council also understood this to be the process.
It’s unclear why moves to take the sewer line in charge have not already been made in the years since the Grove Court development was built or the three years since the issue was raised. Dublin City Council didn’t directly address a query about that.
They also didn’t respond to a query as to whether residents themselves have to ask to have an estate’s infrastructure taken in charge, or whether the council can do that unilaterally.
“Dublin City Council has engaged with Irish Water in relation to water and wastewater connections for three residential units at Bluebell, Naas Road, Dublin 12 and will continue to do so until the issue is resolved which will then allow for the development to take place,” said the council spokesperson.
At the housing committee meeting, Teehan said the council had looked at whether there were other nearby sewer connections to link into. Cost and ease meant not, he said.
Other possible connection points are almost 0.5km away on both sides of the Naas Road site, he said. A connection over the road runs through people’s gardens so would be disruptive to link into, he said.
Nicoullaud, the independent councillor, said she has been told that the other options that don’t rely on Grove Court would be too expensive but not the detail to assess that. “We haven’t been given any costings.”
A spokesperson for the council didn’t respond to a query as to how much it would cost to connect to the sewer lines 0.5km away or over the road.
A spokesperson for Irish Water said that it had a “pre-connection application enquiry” from the council in 2018 “in relation to water and wastewater connections at Bluebell, Naas Road”.
“We advised that the proposed connection to the Irish Water networks could be facilitated,” they said. “We are not in receipt of a connection application for the development.”
It’s unclear if this inquiry related to linking in to the private infrastructure outside Grove Court or connecting at another spot.
L’Estrange, the BTAP coordinator, said he would be surprised if Dublin City Council hasn’t been in contact with Irish Water since 2018.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries as to whether it had had correspondence since then with Irish Water.
Pressing for Progress
Nicoullaud, the independent councillor, says she wants the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, to be more directly involved in making sure Traveller housing projects progress.
If the Naas Road homes can’t be built there, she said, the council needs to move fast to find other sites. “There’s nothing proactive trying to find sites at all.”
At a recent meeting of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, Teehan gave a presentation on what work the council had done since 2019 finding sites in Ballymun, Cabra, and Coolock for new Traveller accommodation.
And why, in case after case, the council had decided they weren’t suitable. Some were too close to motorways or train tracks, others used as community amenities, or too small, or with limited access, or already earmarked for mainstream social homes, or likely to face community opposition.
Nicoullaud says she thinks the council should be thinking ahead and acquiring industrial land around Bluebell, for example, that in the years to come is likely to convert to housing.
There’s an opportunity now, she says. “Five years, it could be gone already.”