Hoteliers meet over alleged extortion

 

Hoteliers in the south-east held an emergency meeting yesterday after a series of alleged extortion attempts by a group of Travellers in the past few days.

Gardaí in Waterford are to investigate a claim that the group demanded €3,000 to leave the car-park of the Woodlands Hotel in Waterford on Tuesday. They left without being paid after a confrontation with hotel security staff, which resulted in gardaí being called to the scene.

Mr John Power, the chief executive of the Irish Hotels Federation, claimed the incident was part of an orchestrated attempt by the group to extort money from a number of hotels in the south-east.

In each case, the hoteliers were given a mobile number for a person in Dublin who explained what was required for the group to leave the hotel grounds. Money was not always specifically asked for, but there was no doubt that the aim was to secure a payment.

The Woodlands Hotel declined to comment, but it is understood a direct demand was made for €3,000. A spokesman did confirm, however, that no money was paid.

Four Travellers were arrested following the confrontation with hotel staff, but not in connection with the alleged extortion attempt. Supt Michael McGarry said this had come to light later. Gardaí had not received a formal complaint but would act on any information provided.

Mr Power said he was aware of at least 50 cases nationally where money had been demanded from hotels in similar circumstances, but not in such an orchestrated fashion where a number of premises were targeted.

A court injunction could cost up to €15,000 and take 10 days to activate, he said, and some Travellers were exploiting this fact for financial gain. He attended yesterday's emergency meeting of the IHF's south-east branch, at which members welcomed the Government's decision to make trespass a criminal offence.

The chairman of the branch, Mr Declan Ivory, claimed Travellers were being given "too much say" as a result of the Equal Status Act. "They know the law better than most hoteliers do and they're working on that," he said.

However, Ms Catherine Joyce, co-ordinator of the Irish Traveller Movement, said Travellers had no option but to use private property when their basic accommodation needs were not being met.

Mr Thomas Erbsloh of the Waterford Travellers' Interest Constituency, which represents Travellers in the area, said he was not aware of any specific cases of money being sought in such circumstances. If it had happened, his group would not condone it.