18/11/2009

Travellers 'Stay' With NIHE

As a 'high profile' family of travellers continue to make the news, it has emerged that responsibility for their transit sites will not transfer to local government control.

Moving sites to the new local 'super councils' was mooted as part of the roll out of the Review of Public Administration (RPA), but the Minister has decided to allow the function to remain with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) following consideration of concerns raised.

Minister for Social Development, Margaret Ritchie (pictured here on a building site) said: "I want to see local government strengthened through the RPA.

"The transfer of a range of regeneration and housing functions from my Department to local government control in May 2011 will extend and complement existing Council services.

"However, a number of organisations, including the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, the Northern Ireland Housing Council and the Local Government Partnership on Traveller Issues, have expressed their desire to see the provision of sites retained by the NIHE. I have decided that my Department and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive will continue to work together to look after the needs of the Travelling Community as one of the most socially excluded groups in Northern Ireland."
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The news comes as traveller Margaret Joyce and three of her sons - aged 3, 8 and 12 - continue to live between the M2 and a railway line.

Margaret Joyce said she lived on the muddy site because she had nowhere else to go: "Everywhere else we went, they were racist, there were attacks. We just wanted to be left alone."

Mrs Joyce said her son's girlfriend was expecting a baby. The couple live with her and her other children.

"I don't understand why children have to live like this, it's ridiculous," she said.

She said she was offered accommodation in a hostel but she did not want to live in a hostel.

Earlier this year, Mrs Joyce's family were involved in a very public protest about Travellers' rights when they parked their caravan outside Belfast City Hall for several weeks.

During that time Mrs Joyce's husband Patrick climbed to the top of the Belfast Wheel and the family have been living beside a motorway in north Belfast ever since and she is now separated from her husband.

At Belfast Magistrates Court on Tuesday, he was given a six-month suspended prison sentence for causing criminal damage to a car which belonged to an official from the Housing Executive.

As a result of that incident and other behaviour, the Joyces are currently excluded from the NIHE waiting list.

The Executive said it has recently been talking to Mrs Joyce about her housing needs but added that there was free space at other travellers' sites in Belfast, so officials won't be trying to find an individual site for the family.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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