A leading Waterford builder, frustrated in his efforts to clear Travellers from a local business park which he owns, went on the attack this week against the City Council and the Government over what he sees as a lack of appropriate action on their part which is exacerbating his problem.
Noel Frisby phoned the Joe Duffy Show on RTE Radio on Tuesday to vent his anger over a situation which has arisen at the Knockhouse Business Park, off Kilmeaden Road opposite the back entrance to Waterford Industrial Estate.
Located in the Business Park are eight small, owner-driven businesses, which he said have been seriously hampered over the last three weeks by the presence of Travellers and their caravans. They have refused to move and, according to Mr. Frisby, one of their number has been attempting to negotiate a substantial payment from him in order to do so. “Initially the demand, made to my head of security, was for €2,000 per caravan, but now that has been reduced to a lump sum of €10,000”, he said. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were eleven caravans on the site.
“The place is in an awful state”, said the Mullinavat native who has grown his building enterprise to one of the largest in the south east. “There are no toilets or running water so you can imagine what that leads to. Horses are roaming and a Rottweiller running free and there is now an accumulation of all kinds of dirt, human and otherwise and workers at the Park have to negotiate their way past all that, to and from their jobs”.
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He said extortion demands in such situations had become common place around the country, including in Waterford where he knew for certain that one businessman paid up. This was not his first time facing such a dilemma, but he had never given in to blackmail attempts heretofore, nor would he in the future.
But he said the legal route was so cumbersome – and expensive – that he could understand if some people were tempted to fork out the money instead. Under current “weak” law, for which he blames the Government, you have to ascertain the name of each individual on site, engage a Barrister and go to the High Court to obtain injunctions which must then be served. Only then, if they refuse to move, can the gardai become involved. “It can cost you around €20,000”, he said.
“That’s an absolutely ridiculous situation. Under the relevant Act, there is protection for local authority property, playing pitches and the like, but none for private property. These people can move in and do what they like and it is almost impossible to do anything about it. The politicians have let us down big time”.
And as for Waterford City Council, he said the first arrivals at his Business Park were from Kilbarry Halting Site where there was a vicious row recently and which is now deemed by the residents as unfit for habitation.
The Council committed itself to a near €3 million house building programme for the site occupants, but Mr. Frisby complained that there was no sign of any work proceeding on the project. Meanwhile, he was left to deal with the problem which presented itself on his property. He was seriously concerned for the businesses within the Park whose operations were under threat in some instances because of what was going on.
A spokeswoman for the Travellers said they were sorry for any inconvenience caused but had no place else to go. She denied any knowledge of money having been demanded from Mr. Frisby or his representative.
In response to Mr. Frisby’s comments the City Council’s Housing Department issued a statement in which it said a number of Travellers were illegally trespassing on private land and that was a matter for the landowner.
“Some of the families concerned have left the Kilbarry Halting Site of their own accord and have been requested to return there. None have been moved from Kilbarry by the Council. The illegal occupiers also include a family who are not from Waterford.
“The redevelopment of the Kilbarry site will be carried out without the need to move any of the authorised residents there.
“We acknowledge a difficulty in managing waste at the Kilbarry site, despite extensive investment every year on waste removal from the site and notwithstanding our record in managing waste across the city on a weekly basis from 16,000 households. The fact is we do not have the co-operation of Travellers in relation to that issue. The twelve families at the Kilbarry site have expressed their wish to remain there and have been centrally involved in consultations regarding the redevelopment proposal.
“Recent works at the Kilbarry site were essential to prevent illegal occupation of the site by Travellers from outside the Waterford area. Those works did not impact on the legal authorised residents of the site who are now using this as an excuse not to return”.