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Councillors clash over ‘Westport only’ housing

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HEATED DEBATE Social Housing on Tubberhill, Westport. Pic: Mayo County Council

 

Mulroy accuses Flynn of creating social-housing stigma

 

Anton McNulty

Two Westport councillors came to verbal blows yesterday (Monday) amid claims a ‘Westport only’ approach to allocating social housing should be adopted.
Councillors Brendan Mulroy and Peter Flynn were involved in a heated verbal volley during an online special meeting of the Westport-Belmullet Municipal District on housing projects in the area.
Plans to develop 50 social housing units on the Golf Course Road in Westport came under fire.
Cllr Flynn questioned the plan’s sustainability, equating it to building 10,000 houses in Dublin.
He also stated that 74 percent of social housing recipients are unemployed, and that he felt the land should be made available to Westport people only for affordable housing.
“We should look to sell off sites to people intrinsically linked to Westport for €5,000 a site and make it possible for our locals to live in this town,” he told the meeting.

‘Nonsense’
Cllr Mulroy said he disagreed with Cllr Flynn comments, adding that Cllr Flynn was creating a stigma around people who live in social housing. He also objected to Cllr Flynn’s comments about making sites available to Westport people only.
“I come from a council estate with 50 houses in it, and I don’t want any stigma attached to any council estate that anyone was ever brought up in. I want to stop the nonsense of using social houses and unemployment and stats saying only people who are unemployed are entitled to social housing. It is a dangerous road to go down.
“I have an issue with the idea that only people from Westport can apply, because believe me, there is a lot more people in Westport than are from Westport. There are people in every estate in Westport who came in from the outside and made their lives in this town and made the town a far better place to live in.
“I do not want to go back to a situation 50 years ago in Horkan’s Hill, when those houses were given out. My mother is from Achill and my father’s from Kilmeena, and a councillor walked out of a council meeting saying those houses should be given to the people of Westport. That day is well and truly gone,” the Fianna Fáil councillor said.In response, Cllr Flynn said that local families who worked in Westport were forced to move out because they could not afford to buy a house, and that he would make no apologies for standing up for them.
“I make no apologises for fighting for the local families of Westport who had to move out of Westport because there is nothing available for them. I make no apology for it.
“I will do everything possible that the people born in this town and went through secondary school and primary school have a chance to live in this town, and right now I don’t see that happening. We are driving people out and our strategy is completely wrong.”

Need, not roots
Catherine McConnell, Director of Services said that housing allocation is based on housing need and not on where a person comes from.
“It is not about where your seed, breed or generation is from, it is based on your need,” she said.
Cllr Flynn’s position was supported by fellow Westport councillor Christy Hyland, who said Westport people were forced to live in Castlebar during the boom. Cllr Hyland further claimed locals were being ‘thrown under the bus’ again by the lack of affordable housing in Westport.
The presentation on housing for the Westport-Belmullet Municipal District was made by Simon Shevlin, Director of Services with responsibility for housing, who said there was waiting list of 256 for social housing in Westport. In relation to affordable housing, he said that at present there is no scheme available to the council to develop affordable housing.
Cllr Mulroy asserted that he has no problem supporting mixed development housing, but pointed out that at the moment, there is no scheme in place for it. The 50-housing project is the ‘only show in town’, he said.

Achill housing
Meanwhile, Mr Shevlin confirmed that Mayo County Council purchased the former Scoil Damhnait Secondary School in Achill and there are plans to build between 12 and 20 social houses on the site in Polranny.
The school operated for over 60 years until its closure in 2011, when Scoil Damhnait and the adjoining VEC school, McHale College, amalgamated to become Coláiste Pobail Acla.
The school and approximately 1.15 hectares of accompanying land, which is located beside the Achill GAA ground, was put up for sale last year. Its asking price was €195,000.
Mr Shevlin explained that the council recently purchased the land and they did not know exactly how many houses they will build on the site until they go through the design process. He expected there would be between 12 and 20, and said he hoped to deliver the project by 2023.
Local councillor Paul McNamara welcomed the news and congratulated Mayo County Council for securing the site and providing houses in rural areas.
“It is great that the former secondary school was purchased and Mayo County Council are putting houses into it. There is definitely a need for it in the parish, and I am delighted the council took the plunge to purchase the lands. This is Mayo County Council leading and making sure there is light in these areas. People will move to these areas when they see schools are kept open, and it is great for these rural areas.”
There are 41 applicants on the council’s current social housing list for the Achill and Ballycroy area.
Mr Shevlin confirmed that the council is also looking at sites in Keel to purchase and develop.