ENVIRONMENT MINISTER PHIL Hogan is under pressure after it emerged that he wrote to some of his constituents to assure them that a Traveller family would not be moving into their area.
The Irish Daily Mail and Irish Independent reported this morning that Hogan’s office wrote to residents of Bonnettstown in Kilkenny to inform them that the McCarthy family, who are Travellers, would not be allocated a house in the area.
Fianna Fáil has described the revelations as a “very serious issue” that could be illegal under equality legislation and the housing act. It has called for the Minister to make a full statement on the matter today.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment said that there were no plans for the Minister to make a statement at this point and noted that it was a constituency matter.
It is understood that Hogan intervened in the matter after receiving representations regarding a dispute between two families in the area in the past. He was told that the McCarthy’s should not be housed in a place “where there was a potential for conflict”, the Mail reports.
In an interview on KCLR 96fm radio this morning Hogan defended his actions saying that he passed on these concerns to the local housing authorities “in good faith” and “without any direction from me or heavy-handedness”.
He told The Sue Nunn Show: “I’ve explained my position quite well, I am at the Ploughing Championships now and I have engagements here so thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my position.”
He then hung up as the presenter sought to question him further on the matter.
Later, speaking to reporters at the Ploughing Championships he said that he did not agree with the Fianna Fáil assertion that it was an abuse of power and racist. “I got information from my constituency office and I passed that on to the local authority,” he told reporters.
In a statement, Fianna Fáil’s communities spokesperson, Éamon Ó Cuív: “The Minister needs to come forward immediately and explain why he allowed a letter of this nature to be sent in his name and with his authority.
“Enormous work has been done over the last decade to reach out to the travelling community to improve their living standards and improve relations with settled communities.
“A public representative in a position of national leadership taking the sort of action suggested in this correspondence would do enormous damage to that process.”
Later speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, Ó Cuív said that Hogan needed to explain on what basis he passed the information to the local authority said that the Minister needed to have evidence of the allegations that he passed on.
Earlier in the Dáil, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald attempted to raise the matter during the Order of Business but was cut short by Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett.
She said: “Minister Hogan needs to be informed that discrimination is unlawful including discrimination against members of the Travelling community.
“I want to ask, Ceann Comhairle, the Taoiseach that the Minister will come before the Dáil and make a statement on this matter. It’s a headline, banner news story, in a national newspaper.”
But as he cut her short, the Ceann Comhairle responded: “This is not a matter for the Order of Business.”