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Friday, November 9, 2001

CPO fears for former refugees

Iranpour and Susan Qaimmaqami came to Ireland from Iran as refugees 17 years ago. Members of the Baha'i faith, they were threatened with execution. Iranpour was a veterinary surgeon, Susan a primary teacher, and they had three teenage children.

"We had to leave because our lives were in danger and we lost everything. Our friends were arrested and their property taken," says Susan.

Their two-storey, semi-detached cottage in the north Co Sligo village of Cliffony means a lot to them. It has been home for the past seven years. A fire blazes in the hearth, and everything in the house is immaculate. Floor tiles gleam in an extension they built in recent years.

They feel that a compulsory purchase order (CPO) issued by Sligo County Council in September is threatening everything they have built up. The cottage is one of 11 located in a row on Chapel Road, close to the centre of Cliffony. Each is built on about an acre, and these long back gardens are the subject of the CPO. The council wants the land for social and affordable housing.

However, the Qaimmaqamis have other plans for the land. Iranpour is an expert on honey bees, and the couple have beehives and have produced their own honey. They have also built a tunnel for growing organic vegetables, something they planned to develop more over future years.

Susan says they were hoping to be able to pass this on to their children and grandchildren. Their son, Armin Samali, an engineer and management consultant, has proved a very eloquent and effective spokesman for the residents and owners of the 11 cottages, all of whom are opposed to the CPO.

They protested at Monday's County Council meeting, and Armin gave a presentation to the councillors, all of whom with one exception voted for the CPO to be withdrawn. It being an executive function, however, the county manager said he could not withdraw it, a legal point disputed by some councillors.

The matter will now go before a Bord Pleanála oral hearing, and residents say it will be a very expensive process for them. Neighbours crowd into the Qaimmaqamis' small sitting room to tell their stories.

Mr Ciaran McSharry doesn't live in one house, but he has plans to renovate it and retire there. "People should have the right to retain their property," he says.

Mr Daniel Wymbs says his family has lived in the house for generations. "It's not a question of money but a right to our heritage."

They argue that the council had other options: there is land available in the area, and houses have also been built close by which remain on the market. They stress that they are not against social housing being built in the area. The council has said it had problems acquiring land nearby.

The entrance to the planned development of 80 houses would be through the front garden of a house occupied by an 87-year-old woman. They would be left with very small back gardens because the CPO land begins at 21 metres from the original houses, but some have now built extensions, and these are not taken into account.

The residents have accused County Council officials of not carrying out proper consultation and a council statement has accepted that the consultation process was not as thorough as it could have been. The council has said that after discussions with some land-owners it became clear that full agreement would not be reached, and this was why a CPO was issued.

Senior officials have also denied allegations that they had picked the site because the residents were "vulnerable". They said the decision was taken based on technical advice.

The council has argued that it has more than 600 people on its waiting list for accommodation, but the Chapel Road residents have questioned how many of these are in the north Co Sligo area.

Residents are hopeful that they can convince An Bord Pleanála that there is a better way to acquire land for housing.

©Copyright 2001, The Irish Times

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