Call to remove Travellers from lay-by

Travellers encampment at Oldtown Road, Castledawson
Travellers encampment at Oldtown Road, Castledawson

A farmer living close to an illegal Travellers encampment outside Castledawson has said he is at his wits’ end after putting up with rubbish being thrown into his fields and noise late at night.

Norman Leslie and his wife Marlene said they have been trying to get the Travellers’ to move from a lay-by on the Oldtown Road over the past six months.
Norman who has 80 cattle and 150 sheep said tins, cans and other rubbish have been thrown into his field near the encampment, endangering livestock and putting at risk his quality assurance standard.
It is understood the same group of Travellers were evicted from a site at Ballyronan by Mid Ulster District Council last year before coming to the Oldtown Road between Castledawson and Bellaghy.
The lay-by is believed to be owned by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) and legal proceedings are being considered to evict the Travellers.
Residents in the area say the problem underlines the need for a permanent halting site to be found as a matter of urgency or else the situation will just be repeated elsewhere.
“We are being kept awake at night by dogs barking and generators for the past six months,” said Marlene, who said their lives have been made a misery.
“I have sought help from Road Service, the Council, and Environmental Health to have them moved to another location without success.
“The disruption to my sleep and to the family members is having a detrimental effect on my mental health and well-being and there is no support.”
Marlene stressed that they, as a family, have nothing against Travellers’ and have spoken to them and asked them to move.
She said the Travellers’ told her they intend to remain at the site for the next five years.
“I’m afraid of the effect this will have on my family life,” she added, pointing out that other residents in the surrounding area were also annoyed at the present of the site.
Norman, who has farmed the land for 75 years, said every morning he wakes up and pulls the curtains back hoping to see that the caravans have gone.
DUP Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan said the amount of time it has taken to address this issue at this particular location has been “long with difficulties for the local population ongoing.”
“Mid Ulster Council has a committee dealing with this specific issue and I look forward to a long term solution being found. I understand that Housing Executive has currently Transit sites and serviced sites across Northern Ireland with relevant facilities for this very purpose,” he said.
A DfI spokesperson said: “The Department is currently taking legal advice to help confirm its position in relation to this matter.”
A Mid Ulster Council spokesperson confirmed that a Working Group has been established consisting of members and representatives of NIHE and other statutory bodies with the aim of supporting the NIHE “to fulfil their statutory responsibilities regarding the identification of need and consideration of potential sites for local Travellers.”
The spokesperson added that “this work is still at a very early stage.”
A Housing Executive spokesperson said: “We have been working closely with colleagues in Mid Ulster Council over the past number of weeks to identify suitable land for Traveller accommodation.”