Jimmy Carty, his wife and seven children, two of whom have spina bifida, live in a damp caravan in the overcrowded St Catherine’s halting site along with a number of horses and dogs on the outskirts of Kilkenny City.
Mr Carty lives in one of 12 trailers on the site along with 69 other people. His trailer is in the shadow of an 10 foot wall that was built to separate St Catherine’s from the Margaret’s field development. The lack of sunlight has resulted in the caravan becoming damp and infested with mildew. There is only cold running water in the caravan and the two wheelchair bound children have to negotiate crude steps made from cinder blocks to enter their home. A second caravan on the site housing a newly married couple and their toddler has no running water and no sewage facilities at all.
The conditions in St Catherine’s Halting site were described as “appalling” at a meeting of a special meeting of the Kilkenny Electoral Area committee of Kilkenny County Council.
Cllr Malolm Noonan (Green) pointed out the absurdity of the situation where there is legislation on the minimum amount of land for each horse that the travellers own but none for the conditions that the Traveller’s themselves live in. “We have legislation for the number of horses per acre, but the reality is that there are 69 souls living on an acre and a hlaf in appalling condition,” he said.
Cllr Andrew McGuinness (Fianna Fail) said that the saga of providing the Travellers with more permanent residence had been dragging on for so long that the Travellers have begun to view it as nothing more than a ‘talking shop. ’ “The Travellers have started to view the Local Traveller Action Committee as nothing more than a talking shop and frankly I’m starting to agree with them,” said Cllr McGuinness.
The problem with the provision of a more permanent housing situation for the Travellers is rooted in their cultural attachment to horses. The Travellers in St Catherine’s have about 60 horses while a second group of Travellers in St Mary’s on the Hebron road have a further 60 horses. The Local Authorities would be obliged to provide 170 acres of land for these animals inorder to comply with guidelines set out by the Department of Agriculture for the horses well being.
“It is very difficult to advance accommodation options and proposals for many of the families involved as they insist, in the first instance, that facilities are also provided for their horses. While the Council recognizes the cultural attachment to horses it is the numbers involved that is the issue and which has undermined many attempts to house families,” said Director of Services with Kilkenny County Council, John McCormack.
Micheal Carty one of the residents on St Catherine’s halting site said that he has been waiting around 13 years for the council to deliver on their promise of a house to him. “My young fellow was a baby when I applied for a house, he needed open heart surgery at the time, he’s thirteen now,” said Micheal Carty who shares his caravan with his nine children.
Micheal Carty siad that he would be unwilling to give up their horses in exchange for housing. “We’ve been settled been settled for years and the horses are the only tie we have left to traveller culture,” said Micheal Carty. As Micheal Carty’s children get older his needs are also changing. One of his children got married last year and he’d not sure that the house the council will give him will suit his needs anymore, but he is realistic, “There are a lot of things we would want but the main thing is a house and a place for our horses,” said Mr Micheal Carty