House fire believed to be arson

Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 00:00

Gardaí believe arsonists were behind an attack which has gutted a house into which a family of 13 Travellers were preparing to move.

The family was allocated the house by Donegal County Council despite public protests that they were being placed among a community of settled, mainly retired, people.

Three weeks ago councillors criticised the plan by council officials to place the family in a five-bedroom house on a hilltop at Parkhill, less than two kilometres outside Ballyshannon.

Donegal Fianna Fáil councillor Seán McEniff denied he was racist or bigoted when he said Travellers should live in their own communities away from settled people.

Spike Island

Ballyshannon Fine Gael councillor Eugene Dolan, a former mayor of the town, said Travellers could be sent to Spike Island for all he cared.

Both condemned the attack which occurred at 3am. Nobody was inside at the time.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty yesterday accused the councillors who criticised the decision to place the Traveller family in the home of “lacking political” leadership in their comments. He said their language could be considered as incitement to hatred.

Gardaí are investigating a complaint from the Donegal Travellers Project that the councillors incited hatred.

Independent TD, Thomas Pringle said it “would have been better for the local councillors to have taken a constructive approach, working towards ensuring that the family received all the support they required and work with the community to make sure that there was a smooth transition for the family.”

Gardaí carried out door-to-door inquiries in the area. Forensic examiners were warned by fire chiefs not to enter the burned building as it was structurally dangerous.

Locals said if the wind had been blowing in the wrong direction the fire could have spread to a neighbouring house.

Criminal behaviour

Mr McEniff said yesterday: “I stand by my view that Travellers should live in their own communities. Of course I don’t condone the fire attack. I did not in any way give any succour to any type of criminal behaviour.”

Mr Dolan said: “The fire attack should never have happened. I am totally opposed to anything like that.”

Ballyshannon and Bundoran fire services responded to the alert.

Donegal Council stated that due to the extent of the fire, it was not possible for teams to search the house and there were no occupants inside.

“It is confirmed that the house was very extensively damaged in the fire. The scene has now been handed over to the gardaí.”

Donegal County Council bought the house for €230,000 to allocate it for social housing. At the height of the boom houses on the same road were reckoned to be worth more than €400,000.