A PROMINENT Ennis retailer has raised concerns over the impression created by rough sleeping in the heart of the town, writes Fiona McGarry.
Oliver Moylan of The Ennis Cash Company said the presence of a small number of people sleeping in an area around the top of O’Connell Street is creating a negative image of the town, particularly in the busy run in to Christmas.
Those providing emergency accommodation, meanwhile, have said they are fully prepared to engage with rough sleepers, and that there is sufficient provision in Ennis so that nobody should be without a bed at night.
Mr Moylan, who contacted The Champion to raise his concerns, is proprietor of a business trading since the 1880s.
“People sleeping rough on the main street is creating a terrible impression of Ennis, especially as businesses are trying to get back on their feet and really need footfall and shoppers back on the streets,” he said.
“There are people spreading out their duvets at night right opposite my business and those working in local shops feel intimidated, especially when they are taking cash to the bank.”
Mr Moylan said he is keen to see his business handed on to the fifth and sixth generation of the family but is concerned about trading conditions in the aftermath of the lockdowns.
“All over the town centre, businesses are struggling to get back on their feet,” he said.
“Having people sleeping rough and others begging creates a really shocking image. O’Connell Street is a kind of a mall in itself, it’s a unique shopping zone and it can do without this issue.”
Responding, Superintendent John Galvin of Ennis Garda Station said the issue involves a relatively small number of people who, for their own reasons, have chosen not to engage with support agencies.
“This is an ongoing issue locally and nationally,” he said. “We are assured, from our engagement with State and voluntary agencies that there is enough emergency accommodation provision in Ennis. The reality is that some people choose not to engage and to live in a certain way and up to a certain point, we have to respect that.”
The agency tackling rough sleeping, Midwest Simon, has also confirmed there is a sufficient supply of emergency accommodation.
“We have up to 29 beds available and I would be confident that the supply is there,” said Jackie Bonfield CEO of Midwest Simon.
“Between our different facilities, we can find a bed for anyone who comes to the county council looking for services. If the beds are full, we can provide further emergency services and there shouldn’t be any need for people to sleep rough on the streets.”
Ms Bonfield acknowledged that some people can have reservations about using the services, including concerns over personal safety.
“Our model is very much about harm reduction. People fall into homelessness for all kinds of reasons and they take those issues with them when they enter emergency accommodation. As long as those coming in aren’t abusive to staff or others using the services, they are welcome.”
She also said there are many reasons why people choose not to engage with the authorities.
“The services are there, primarily to cater to local need, and if people are not from the area, we can provide supports,’ she said.
“However, we cannot force people to engage if they don’t want to. We are always ready to meet people and to do whatever we can to respond to their needs.”
Mr Moylan, meanwhile, believes the pedestrianisation plan introduced in response to the pandemic has worsened the problem.
“Nothing is better for business than having cars drop people off outside,” he said. “You also get traffic passing by your window and it’s a form of advertising as well. Since traffic has been restricted on O’Connell Street, we have seen a rise in anti-social behaviour and something needs to be done about this.”