No one mentioned Travellers on Monday night when councillors on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council voted unanimously to sell half a site in Mount Anville to the Department of Education for €4.57 million.
Some of the famous plot of land, in one of the most affluent parts of Dublin, had been earmarked for Traveller accommodation for decades, its future use written into official council plans from 2005 to 2019.
In 2014, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan, then a local election candidate, distributed aleaflet saying that to use that site for Traveller accommodation would be “a dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”.
In July 2019, councillors voted 21 to 17 against using the site from the Traveller Accommodation Programme for 2019–2025.
Following the council’s decision on Monday, half of the site is set to be used by Gaelscoil Laighean, which is currently based in Deansgrange and facing eviction.
Council officials said they would build housing quickly on the remaining half.
Geraldine Dunne, director of the Southside Travellers Action Group, says she supports the plans for a school on the site.
“If they are building social housing and a nice public school, wouldn’t it be lovely to include a few Traveller accommodation units?” she said, on Tuesday.
Last year, the council said that it was considering selling part of the site to the Department of Education to accommodate Gaelscoil Laighean, whose lease is up on its current premises in Deansgrange.
At the meeting on Monday, all the councillors backed the plans for the school and several of them took the opportunity to show off their cúpla focail.
Green Party Councillor Séafra Ó Faoláin said that this would be the first non-denominational Gaelscoil in the area, and Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Hanafin said that selling the land to the school was a positive step for diversity in education in the area.
Councillors complimented the council managers for bringing the plans forward swiftly and the parents of the school children for running a good campaign. They patted themselves on the back too, for reaching unanimous agreement.
“How refreshing is it to have something presented that everyone is in full agreement with?” said An Cathaoirleach, the Labour Councillor Lettie McCarthy.
Nobody mentioned the urgent need for homes for Travellers, who continue to live on overcrowded sites and in homeless accommodation around the county.
Some councillors said they shouldn’t have to choose between housing and education. “This is a very very positive development, notwithstanding the Solomon’s choice we have been forced into,” said Fine Gael Councillor Maurice Dockrell.
“Effectively we were faced with the situation where a school was going to be left without any permanent or temporary home if we didn’t agree to this particular disposal,” said Fine Gael Councillor Jim Gildea.
People Before Profit Councillor Melisa Halpin said that the council should move quickly to build housing on the part of the site it still owns.
In July 2019, when councillors voted against putting the Mount Anville site back in the Traveller Accommodation Programme, the council’s chief executive, Philomena Poole, said that selling the land would provide capital funding for the council.
A valuation by the Dublin City Valuers office in 2018 was €15 million for the commercial sale of the full site. The council has agreed to less than that though, with the price tag for half the site at €4.57 million.
Fine Gael Councillor Barry Ward asked how that sale would impact the council’s capital programme, given it had expected more.
Paul Kennedy, the council’s director of infrastructure, said that the valuation process was thorough.
“Things have changed since 2018,” he said. Factors that may have contributed to the drop in value include Brexit, the war in Ukraine and the possibility of interest rate hikes, he said.
Homes At Mount Anville
The council will seek planning permission for housing on the land it still owns, through its internal planning permission process, known as part 8, said Kennedy.
“That is something that we will be keen to move ahead on because as we know, with the housing crisis, we need those numbers,” he said. “So we will move ahead quite quickly on that.”
Independent Councillor Hugh Lewis tabled a motion calling on the council to increase its social-housing building programme to make up for the homes that could have been built on the part of the Mount Anville site that will be used for the school.
“These homes are to be in addition to any plans currently being considered for the delivery of social and affordable housing,” says the motion, which was agreed.
Council officials have said that there is space for around 48 homes on the remaining part of the site, said Lewis, on the phone a day after the meeting.
He thinks that will be social housing and hopes, he says, that some homes for Travellers could still be included there.
The council has lost another site that was designated for Traveller housing at the West Pier in Dún Laoghaire, he says. That has been deemed unsuitable for construction because there is a major attenuation tank underneath it, he says.
Irish Water has issued a report saying that that site definitely can’t be built on for health and safety reasons, he says. “We’ve effectively lost two sites if you include Mount Anville and the West Pier site.”
While Mount Anville isn’t included in the current Traveller Accommodation Programme, that is set to be reviewed next year, says Lewis.
Since the council now has plans for public housing at Mount Anville, that should include homes for Travellers, he says. “It could still include Traveller accommodation.”