CLARE County Council has been forced to spend €450,000 over its budget allocation for Traveller accommodation following damage on sites and high legal costs for the first six months of the year.
Unlike previous expenditure on Traveller accommodation, the council’s finance officer, Francis Barrett, stated the €450,000 in additional expenditure will not be recoverable from the Department of the Environment.
County manager Tom Coughlan admitted he was concerned with the over expenditure on Traveller accommodation sites year on year, while the council is doing its utmost to stay within budget.
Following a “difficult” first six months in terms of staying within budget, Mr Coughlan told councillors on Monday he expected the final six months to remain “difficult”, while the preparation of the 2012 Budget Estimates would be challenging.
He pledged to commission an overall report detailing the items of over expenditure on Traveller accommodation for the October meeting.
Councillor Joe Arkins expressed dissatisfaction that the €450,000 is not recoverable from the department and noted it was “not likely to be recovered from Travellers”.
The difficulty collecting income from specific Traveller accommodation was raised by Councillor Johnny Flynn, who noted there seemed to be a problem collecting money from some local authority tenants.
Councillor James Breen asked the council to provide a breakdown of the number of court cases it had lost and won and who covered the cost of all the legal proceedings involving Travellers.
Clare County Council spent €565,000 on maintenance and management of Traveller accommodation sites in 2009 and this figure increased to €628,000 in 2010.
Additional expenditure on refurbishment resulting from vandalism at Beechpark, Ballymaley, Ennis and Ballymurtagh, Shannon, amounted to €90,000.
The Beechpark Halting Site was opened in July 2004 at a cost of approximately €2 million. Extensive damage to the site on the Kilmaley Road sparked outrage in the community in April 2010, with some residents calling for a total closure of the site.
The remains of a house gutted by a fire, the home of a Traveller who died in January 2010, had to be demolished and the rubble was taken away by council contractors. The fire at the site was the subject of a garda investigation.
In the 2010 Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee annual report, the committee expressed concern about the “inordinate cost of maintenance of newly constructed Traveller accommodation and the unsustainability of this expenditure”.
The large-scale breaches of tenancy agreements and the levels of anti-social behaviour and poor quality of life that were being experienced also received much attention from the committee.
The Traveller Accommodation Programme commitments to quality in the accommodation did not work as envisaged and it was felt that group schemes were not working at various levels including cost, the report stated.