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29 Sept 2022

Political representatives grilled at consultation over proposed modular homes in Rathangan, Kildare

Political representatives grilled at consultation over proposed modular homes in Rathangan, Kildare

Cllr Mark Stafford and Minister Martin Heydon TD were among the attendees at the consultation on Wednesday night.

A public consultation turned into a passionate exchange of words in Rathangan Community Centre last night.

The meeting concerned the proposed implementation of 30 modular homes for 120 Ukrainian nationals, who have been displaced by the Russian military’s invasion of their country, at Beechgrove in Rathangan.

Beechgrove is one of two sites that have been chosen to house Ukrainians in Kildare, the other being a site near Lakeside Park, Highfield and Dara Park (LHD) in Newbridge

Between 80 and 90 people attended the meeting in the community centre, which was chaired by local resident Aine Donegan.

Ms Donegan listed a number of reasons why the community objected to the development, which echoed similar complaints made by residents with the LHD Action Group.

The meeting was held at Rathangan Community Centre.

These included: poor sewage facilities, poor housing features (such as faulty windows and doors), the shrinking size of the town, garda vetting concerns and anger over the apparent lack of consultation between Kildare County Council (KCC) and local residents.

Ms Donegan claimed that the estate only found out about the plans from a leaflet posted by Sinn Féin (SF), but another resident, Rosann Sullivan, said that only the newer homes in the estate got the leaflets.

Fianna Fáil councillor Anne Connolly told Ms Donegan that she 'knew more from Facebook' in recent days about the proposed development compared to information from KCC.

She said: "I know that the Office of Public Works (OPW) were to do an assessment of the site, but I do not know the results of that assessment. But it would appear that it (the implementation of the modular homes) will more than likely happen."

Cllr Connolly also stressed: "We have to make sure we are not working on hearsay."

Fine Gael TD Martin Heydon then said that on June 29, the government decided that the OPW, Dept of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and the Dept of Housing would deliver 500 modular units nationwide.

Following this, KCC were asked to draw up a list of proposed sites, as it was down to local authorities to decide.

He added that it was a Cabinet decision, not a full government decision.

The five key speakers who represented residents at Beechgrove (Left to Right): Rosann Sullivan, Seán Brien, Mary Furlong, Aine Donegan and Carmel Mulpeter 

Regarding the criteria for the two Kildare sites being selected, Minister Heydon said that while he didn’t know the exact criteria, he did not know the lands could not be on sites involved in the Housing for All plans. He added that he sought clarification over the criteria. 

He further said that Oireachtas members of Kildare South were given a briefing on the proposed homes sometime in late July to early August.

When Minister Heydon was asked why no information was made public, he said that a meeting from officials involved in the development was due to take place, but never ended up happening. 

'JUDGEMENT CALL'

Ms Donegan asked Minister Heydon: "Do you think it’s good enough that the opposition, SF, had to come out and tell us from your perspective to tell us? We elected you to speak for us, but why have you not represented us? 

"How can you expect your positions to be attainable in the next election if you can’t even represent the people that voted for you, or even inform us?"

These comments were met with applause from many of the attendees.

In response, Minister Heydon explained why he didn’t release information he knew at the time: "I made a judgement call because I didn’t have enough info to inform the residents, it was half information. I wanted to wait until I had full information.

"And you still don’t have the full information," Ms Donegan replied.

Minister Heydon then said: "This is not an ideal situation, but we are in an emergency situation because we are dealing with thousands of Ukrainian refugees."

This brought the topic of homelessness within Ireland to the forefront of the meeting: one resident brought up the fact that there are over 10,500 homeless people nationwide, while also expressing his sympathy for Ukrainians who have been displaced by the conflict.

Commenting on Minister Heydon’s point about the emergency situation, Ms Donegan said: "Where are the emergency powers for the Irish citizens — regardless of race or religion since, we are living in a multicultural estate at the minute —  where are the emergency powers for them?"

Referring to the funding behind the govt’s emergency powers, she said: "There is nothing in the public forum about this, it is underhanded and the people are not going to stand for it," which garnered her applause.

One resident criticised Minister Heydon, and said that he should have pressed for the information, and that he should have proposed the Red House as a potential site for the displaced Ukrainians.

The same resident also pointed out that there was a huge number of vacant homes in Kildare that could be used to house the displaced Ukrainian nationals.

A separate resident added that while they wouldn't necessarily be opposed to the presence of a few modular homes, they insisted that 30 was too much for the area of Beechgrove.

SF Cllr Noel Connolly then told those in attendance that each modular home would cost between €250,000, in addition to €50,000 for facilities, and each home would be 45 square metres, which prompted a number of gasps, shouts and even some laughs.

Cllr Connolly explained: "KCC said the criteria for the homes included not being part of Housing For All plans, and that it must have easy access to services and proper sewage facilities. 

"On 28 July, another email came, saying KCC’s role is to only make a list of sites, not pick the sites, it seems that the OPW chose it by themselves."

Speaking about how SF waited on KCC to give an update on a consultation between the residents and government officials, he said: "We waited for two weeks and there wasn’t a dickie-bird, so hence (the posting of) the letter."

He also drew some applause when he said: "Anyone who says we have to house our own first... we can house both."

When asked if the links the proposal had to the EU, he said: "Deputy (Patricia) Ryan asked… I think it was Michael McGrath in the Budgetary Oversight Committee, and he said any support for Ukrainians comes from the government funds."

Ms Donegan replied: "So basically what I’m being told now is that there is no pressure on the government (from the EU), this is all coming from Irish government ranks?"

'NEITHER HERE NOR THERE'

Ms Donegan also brought up the plight of those residing in Direct Provision centres.

When Minister Heydon said that many Ukrainian in Ireland are fleeing war and landing on Irish shores and that they are predominantly women and young children, Ms Donegan told him: "That is neither here nor there. Your government is not providing refuge for them, your government is putting them in tents along with our own homeless citizens, including Black-Irish citizens, Indian-Irish citizens, Chinese-Irish citizens… that is an insult to any refugees coming this country."

This point garnered another round of applause from many attendees.

Minister Heydon said that there are currently displaced Ukrainians in army barracks and camping in scout dens.

He elaborated: "The context here is that these are the same officials that are dealing with this issue, are dealing with this, drawing up these plans, are dealing with the displaced Ukrainians in real time, and that is a very serious workload."

Ms Donegan then said: "There is an emergency for the Irish (who are) homeless and displaced Ukrainians…  I want them (displaced UkraInians) to come here and to be safe, but both should be equally dealt with in the same manner by the government… why is it taking so long for the government to accept that?"

Minister Heydon also garnered some boos and heckles when he asked one representative of Kildare’s SF branch, Joe Burke: "Is Patricia (Ryan) back from her holidays?"

This prompted Ms Donegan to reprimand Minister Heydon, saying: "Why are you bringing personal people’s lives into the public forum? It is unprofessional," a statement which also garnered a round of applause.

The first few rows of the crowd on the night.

A few minutes later, when talking about the briefing that Kildare members of the Oireachtas received, Cllr Connolly mentioned Fianna Fáil Senator Fiona O’ Loughlin, who was absent at the meeting.

He also made a reference to Minister Heydon’s comments towards his colleague Mr Burke, he said: "Representatives were told that there was no time (frame)... in Senator O' Loughlin's defence, I’m not going to make any snide remarks about her being on holidays, because she’s entitled to her holidays, but the officials said that there was no commitment because there wasn’t any timeframe, that’s why we wrote the letter (containing the leaflet sent to residents)."

Cllr Connolly said that SF have also emailed Minister O’ Gorman regarding details about the proposed development, but received no response. He also mentioned that there were around 1,600 vacant properties in Kildare.

ESTIMATED COSTS

One speaker who also garnered applause was Sean Brien, who noted that the proposed homes in Kildare would cost roughly €15 million in Kildare: "Multiply it by six sites throughout the country, it’s nearly €100 million of Irish taxpayers money. 

"Fair enough, there are Ukrainians fleeing war, no one is arguing that, but spending €100 million on this when we can’t house our own people housed is not good enough, end of story."

Another representative who attended the meeting, FG Cllr Mark Stafford, who is originally from Rathangan, said: "We were informed in July. We were told in the early stages that if the sites were selected, that the OPW would come down, inspect the sites to see if they are suitable.

"I don’t know if they have done that inspection or not; if they do, they may find that it is not suitable."

He added that the prospect of putting displaced Ukrainians into the Red House Hotel is a 'complex issue', which prompted one attendee to say: 'it’s only complex if you make it.'

Cllr Stafford also said he proposed another property in Rathangan that may be suitable, but this property wasn’t taken up by KCC.

At the end of the meeting, the attendees were given assurance by Minister Heydon that officials with Minister O’ Gorman’s department will meet with the residents, and said that it will happen soon.

Ms Donegan also urged those in attendance to make their voices known at the upcoming peaceful protest in Newbridge this weekend, which is being held by the LHD Action Group.

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