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Home sweet home Kilkenny family of ten's relief as house saved from being bulldozed

Kris and Margaret Stokes bought the house in Ballyrobin, Co Kilkenny, in the summer of last year and moved in with their eight children, including one son who is wheelchair bound and another who is autistic.

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Kris and Margaret Stokes with their eight children

Kris and Margaret Stokes with their eight children

Kris and Margaret Stokes with their eight children

A Traveller family of 10 facing demolition of their privately-owned home have finally been told they can stay in the house after the Sunday World highlighted their case.

Kris and Margaret Stokes bought the house in Ballyrobin, Co Kilkenny, in the summer of last year and moved in with their eight children, including one son who is wheelchair bound and another who is autistic.

They had been searching for a home particular to their needs and were delighted when they found and bought the bungalow, which was fully wheelchair accessible.

However, shortly before Christmas last year Kilkenny County Council wrote to the family threatening to bulldoze the home as the council believed it did not comply with planning regulations.

Had the Stokes been kicked out the council would likely have had to pay to house the family in a wheelchair suitable home at a cost to the taxpayer.

However, this week Kris said they have been given planning permission which now means they can stay and thanked the Sunday World for highlighting their case.

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Kris and Margaret Star Stokes from Ferrybank, Waterford.

Kris and Margaret Star Stokes from Ferrybank, Waterford.

Kris and Margaret Star Stokes from Ferrybank, Waterford.

"We got granted permission to live in the house. I just wanted to thank the Sunday World for highlighting the story and putting pressure on the council," Kris said.

The previous owner had secured planning permission to change the entrance to the house on condition that she lived there for seven years or the next people who bought it had local links.

Despite the Stokes family saying they have local links going back generations, the council wrote to them in December saying they had eight weeks to move out or face prosecution.

After the Sunday World highlighted the case in January, council officials met with the family who provided them with details of their local links.

Kris said they applied for planning permission and after months of letters back they were finally granted permission in recent days.

He said it is a massive relief for the family.

"I couldn't describe the pressure over the last year. We couldn't even plant a tree or get the gates up. You'd have people saying they can't put you out but when they come out with a legal document and an enforcement notice with guards you don't know what's going to happen.

"I didn't know if a judge was going to say 'well look, Mr Stokes, I'm going to put an order in not that you have to knock it but you'll have to sell it'. It put us on a standstill for a year."

He said some neighbours were initially fearful that a Traveller family was moving into the area but after getting to know the family they came around.

"A lot of the neighbours are fine. They'll wave and they'll talk away and everything is fine. All we're doing is just raising our family. The neighbours know now I'm not Ted Bundy or Fred West. I do believe it was the pressure with the Sunday World."

Days after the Sunday World highlighted the case, then Disability Minister Finian McGrath wrote to the council saying he was "very concerned for the family's welfare".

He added that given his remit as Minister for Disabilities he had specific concerns for the welfare of Paddy Stokes, who is disabled and Tony, who is autistic.

He sought an urgent update from the council regarding the case and asked "if some arrangement could be made with the family similar to the arrangement made between the council and the previous lady owner who broke the agreement through no fault of the Stokes".

Other organisations, including the Irish Wheelchair Association the Irish Traveller Movement and Pavee Point, made submissions on behalf of the family.

"People were asking a lot of questions then and the answers had to be given," Kris said this week.

He said people would have found it hard that a family of 10 who bought their own home that was suitable for their disabled son would be put out on the street, but the pressure was always there.

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"If you're on the outside looking in you'd think they couldn't move them with Paddy being in the wheelchair and all that, but when you're on the inside it's a different story and you have a solicitor saying you'll have to go to court.

"The whole world was in a pandemic and they were still looking to get me out was the way I was looking at it.

"Thankfully we didn't in the end. It was a nightmare but we're over the hurdle now."

He said the house feels different now the threat of having to leave is gone.

"The house feels different now that it's all legal. There is a mental change there. It's hard to explain but it's like something has lifted. You're looking around thinking I can plant my palm trees now, my laurels and the whole lot and won't be put out."

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