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Ashford Court Hotel in Ennis Photograph by Eugene McCafferty on 29/03/2021

“I’m afraid to walk past on my own” Fear among Ennis residents

THERE is tension in the Hermitage area of Ennis at the moment, with anger among residents at some of the behaviour that has been associated with the Ashford Court.

Homeless people have been housed there for some time under the Winter Initiative project, designed to help rough sleepers.

One woman said that there has been a lot of problematic behaviour in recent weeks. “It used to be a boutique hotel, you’d have had a lot of stags and hens there, and as residents we didn’t mind, they weren’t causing any issues. But the carry on that you’ve had lately is just disgraceful.”

She said that there has been drug dealing in the vicinity. “You see people hanging around waiting to sell drugs or buy the drugs from someone there. The language, the vulgarity, I’d say they are so off their face they don’t realise it.”

In general, there has been a very serious level of anti social behaviour in the area, she feels. “The drug dealing, the noise, the intimidation, I’m afraid to walk past there on my own, I don’t like to walk my child down that way, you don’t know who’s going to be sitting outside, what they’re going to be saying, what kind of shape they’re going to be in. And this is literally on my doorstep.

“Every single week we have emergency services here, because something has happened in there. I have to explain that every week to my four-year-old daughter, try and explain to her that it’s normal for that to be there all the time, but not to be worried, to try and distract her.

“I don’t let her play at the front of the house anymore, because of what’s going on and what she could potentially be exposed to.

“I have had a man walk past my house so off his face on heroin that he urinated up against my front wall, didn’t know his arse from his elbow.”

She said that the area has always been a quiet one, until the problems that have recently emerged.

The woman said that there have been attempts to break into a number of houses in the area, while someone managed to break into her car.

A document written by a Council official and seen by some of those living in the area stated that residents are “nervous of change”, something that they have denied and in some cases have been offended by.

“They would know exactly what we are afraid of if they had any dealings with the residents here. But there has been no communication whatsoever,” the local woman said.

A man living in the area said that the area has been a very good place to live, but that people are very on edge right now.

“It’s a nuisance, I’m not joking you. I was talking to one of my neighbours on Saturday and we said our whole lives are on hold.It’s not that we don’t want change. The community at Hermitage and Considine’s Terrace are the most genuine people you could ever meet.If you ever ran into a problem at your house they’d be the first to come over and give you a hand to get it sorted.People who come into the neighbourhood are more than welcome, it’s not that we are against change, but if anti social behaviour is around your home it’s not good.”

He said that the discontent among the residents isn’t due to a generalised nervousness about change, but distress at a very real problem with anti social behaviour.

“We are prepared for change, but not for the kind of change we’ve seen since Christmas. We’re not ready for that and I don’t think any community should have to put up with that.”

The discontent with the current situation goes across all age groups, he feels. “The young people with young kids are afraid going forward and the elderly people are locking themselves into their homes. One person said to me, we are prisoners in our own homes.”

In a statement this week, Clare County Council said, “Clare County Council since 2019 has had a commercial arrangement with the premises in question, this premises has provided shelter and accommodation to those without accommodation and facilitate their transition to secure permanent accommodation. As previously outlined Clare County Council established a ‘winter initiative’ project following a direction from the Minister in relation to ensuring all those rough sleeping were accommodated during the winter to provide shelter and in the interest of protecting public health during the pandemic. All of the complex clients accommodated by virtue of this project have now been discharged from the project, the few remaining are individuals who were ordinarily accommodated in emergency accommodation in the town.

“Clare County Council has utilised the premises for many years without incident and this was done through working in partnership with relevant stakeholders, unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances, much of which is outside the control of Clare County Council, the utilisation of the premises in recent weeks has attracted some negative community attention. Clare County Council has an obligation to provide accommodation to those in need of same and to that end it is necessary that the commercial relationship between this premises and the Council continues.”

Chief Executive Officer of Mid West Simon Jackie Bonfield explained how the charity had become involved in supporting residents there, while she acknowledged the situation is less than ideal. “We were approached by Clare County Council to support the proprietor in supporting the clients in Ashford Court. There was a Winter Initiative set up and because of the global pandemic there has been an issue with shortages of beds, because any emergency services had to be decanted for social distancing reasons.

“We went into what we believed would be a difficult situation, but the work of Mid West Simon and the ethos we work under, we had to weigh up could we go in and at least keep people safe and alive, I don’t need to throw out any statistics about the people who are dying on the streets in this country from being rough sleepers. As a homeless agency we had to say okay, this will be difficult, we knew this wasn’t the ideal premises to be in, but we also knew this was a very finite programme to keep people safe for a very short period of time, while it gave the County Council time to get other services and supports in place.”

She said that she appreciates the issues that residents have and measures have been taken to try and address some of their concerns. “We have been working really hard in there and I fully respect and appreciate the concerns of the neighbourhood, so much so that I myself walked around the community knocking on doors, talking to people to listen to their concerns and from that day we implemented a programme of moving some people on, we had secured accommodation for them, and also putting security in place for a period of time while that work was being done.”

Ms Bonfield said that the agencies involved are working towards an end date in the next few months. “We understand that the concerns of the community but also the concerns of the people sleeping rough. We don’t want to see people dying on the streets of Ennis, we have to support the most vulnerable, we have to support the people with the most complex cases. We are working with the community, we are working with the councillors, with the County Council, with the proprietor and this is going to come to an end in a very short period of time,” she added.

Owen Ryan

About Owen Ryan

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Owen Ryan has been a journalist with the Clare Champion since 2007, having previously worked for a number of other regional titles in Limerick, Galway and Cork.