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Councillor Johnny Flynn

Call for Joint Policing sub-committee to tackle anti-social behaviour in Ennis

ENNIS is “becoming a problem area” with calls being made for the setting up of a special Joint Policing sub-committee with a specific focus on the county capital. This week’s meeting of the Ennis Municipal District saw councillors raise concerns about anti-social behaviour which has been linked to the use of tourist buildings as homeless accommodation.
Residents of Hermitage and Considine’s Terrace in Ennis have reported anti-social behaviour including incidences of drug dealing and intimidation associated with some living in Ashford Court under the Winter Initiative Project. While concerns have also been raised about residents at Westbrook House, a former bed and breakfast on the Gort Road being used for emergency accommodation.
Councillor Johnny Flynn raised the issue at the meeting, requesting a report on the planning and development status of the ongoing homeless and emergency accommodation use of tourist accommodation buildings at both Ashford Court, and Westbrook. 
He insisted that all councillors are “fully committed” to providing social housing. However he argued that tourist accommodation is not suitable to cater for the complex needs of some homeless people.
He believes accommodation should be developed to help homeless people with specific difficulties offering services including addiction supports. He said the issues facing some homeless people are resulting in problems “spilling out onto the streets of Ennis”.
“We need to have in place proper services in a proper location for individuals with difficulties and challenges,” he said.
He argued that an Ennis specific sub-committee of the Joint Policing Committee should be set up, asking, “Why is Ennis suddenly becoming a problem area?”
The motion was seconded by Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy who said, “we need to treat this as an emergency”. “People are living there with special needs and are not getting supports and as a result the problem is now rolling out onto our streets.”
She emphasised the role of the gardaí in dealing with reports of anti-social behaviour and the need for a clear line of communication between elected officials and the gardaí.
Councillor Mary Howard commented that no councillor is against providing homeless services. “If the council is providing homeless services they need to be managed.”
Councillor Pat Daly questioned having homeless accommodation so close to the town centre. Speaking about the location of Ashford Court and Westbrook House he said, “homeless services shouldn’t have been put in those areas. There is anti-social behaviour, including drug dealing, going on. It’s time that we supported a properly resources building outside the town centre.”
Councillor Ann Norton said communication is key when it comes to establishing homeless accommodation. “No matter where people are housed residents are going to have an issue, whether or not they are on the outskirts of town, unless Clare County Council and the different organisations involved in providing accommodation communicate with residents to reassure them.”
She added that there is a particular need for one or two bed housing for single men at risk of homelessness following the breakdown of a relationship.
Mayor of Ennis Councillor Paul Murphy also supported the call for engaging with An Garda Siochána.
At the meeting the council confirmed it is working with An Bord Pleanala to resolve an application for a ‘change of use’ of Westbrook House. Last March, the council issued a declaration stating the change of use of Westbrook House from a commercial guesthouse to a homeless hostel wasn’t a material change of use and is exempted
development following a request from the Aughanteeroe Residents’ Association (ARA).
Responding to Councillor Flynn’s motion, Gareth Ruane, acting senior executive planner, stated, “With regard to the Ashford Court Hotel, the council currently buy rooms in the hotel to accommodate those in need of emergency accommodation. As this is an existing hotel/commercial transaction, it is not considered that a change of use in planning terms has occurred. With regard to Westbrook House, the use of the building for emergency accommodation use is continuing. The Council are aware of the declaration as issued by An Bord Pleanála and are working to resolve this matter. Further advices are awaited with respect to same.”
It was agreed that the council would write to the Joint Policing Committee to seek the immediate establishment of a sub-committee which would meet monthly.

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