THE Supreme Court has overturned a decision allowing Clare County Council to evict a Traveller family who have been living on lands in Ennis for several years.
An injunction had been secured by the local authority from the High Court requiring Bernard and Helen McDonagh, and members of their family, to immediately vacate council-owned lands at Cahercallamore, Ennis.
However, this week the family’s appeal against their eviction was upheld, with five Supreme Court justices ruling unanimously in favour of the McDonagh family.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has welcomed the ruling, describing it as significant.
The mandatory injunction, granted in 2019, was to remain in place pending the outcome of the full hearing of the dispute. Seeking the injunction, the council claimed the McDonaghs were unlawfully occupying the site and had also breached the 2000 Planning and Development Act by the unauthorised development there of a roadway and courtyard. The injunction was upheld on appeal by the Court of Appeal in 2020.
However, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the McDonagh’s appeal, and in a judgement on Monday the five-judge court ruled that mandatory interlocutory injunction should not be allowed.
Giving the court’s decision, Mr Justice Hogan said the lower courts had erred in their decisions that the McDonagh family had not raised a fair case in the context of the injunction application.
He set out that if an injunction allowing the eviction to occur was lifted, the McDonaghs would have nowhere else to go without necessarily trespassing on someone else’s lands.
“This judgment is being delivered just over 100 years since the first Provisional Government for an independent Irish State was called into being. It is nonetheless salutary to reflect that one hundred years later a distinct group – the Irish Traveller community – still remains a vulnerable minority at the margins of Irish society. The members of that community have struggled for recognition of their own cultural identity and way of life.”
Mr Justice Hogan concluded that normally, a council would be entitled to orders restraining trespass and the unauthorised use of their lands under Section 160 of the 2000 Act.
However, this particular appeal had raised fair arguments by way of defence at this juncture and that the mandatory interlocutory injunction should not be granted.
The judge noted this decision might have been different had the unlawful occupation and unauthorised development posed any immediate threat to the amenities of others, public safety, or any other similar pressing consideration.
In addition, if the situation had involved a purely private party, as opposed to a public authority, then the case for granting the order in question “would have been almost unanswerable.”
The council, however, was not such a party, and therefore different considerations had to be considered in determining whether to grant such relief, Mr Justice Hogan found.
Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated: “This ruling sets out that it is not enough for a Local Authority to evict Traveller families from public land without any thought of their accommodation needs and requirements.
“The Supreme Court is clear that the Local Authority is the housing body, and it has an obligation to offer suitable accommodation. This obligation must be fulfilled rather than side-stepped.”
“Councils across the country are failing to properly and appropriately address Traveller accommodation. People are being left to live in conditions which ultimately damage their health, their children’s health, impact their access to education, employment and their quality of life. This has to stop.”