Galway councillors criticised over approach to Traveller housing

Former mayor Pádraig Conneely says negative comments are ‘informed by reality’

Former Galway city mayor  Pádraig Conneely: “I don’t think any decent, hardworking people  should have to endure unacceptable behaviour.” Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Former Galway city mayor Pádraig Conneely: “I don’t think any decent, hardworking people should have to endure unacceptable behaviour.” Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

 

The Galway Traveller Movement has said it is “appalled” at the negative approach taken by some Galway city councillors towards resolving serious accommodation issues for the Travelling community.

The organisation’s project co-ordinator Margaret O’Riada said she felt the health and safety needs of an ethnic group were barely acknowledged during a four-hour special city council meeting this week to review existing plans.

It had been intended that the mid-term review of Galway’s 2014-2018 accommodation plan on Monday evening would focus on new locations provided for in a strategy already agreed.

However, Ms O’Riada said some councillors appeared to want to row back on this and seemed to be unaware of legislative, if not moral, obligations.

Some families have been living in unauthorised locations in and around Galway for up to 20 years, she said.

An estimated 20 per cent of Ireland’s Travellers live in the west and northwest of the country, with 1,666 recorded in Galway city. More than 1,000 of these are under 25 years of age, according to the GTM.

Overcrowding

Galway has the largest city population of Travellers outside Dublin. Stress levels were at an “all-time high” for 13 Traveller families who were in temporary accommodation next to a waste management plan on Headford Road, Ms O’Riada said.

There have been warnings of the risk of a “Carrickmines” situation due to overcrowding in Galway. Ten people, five of them children, died after a fire broke out on a halting site in Carrickmines, south Dublin in October 2015. GTM has also warned of serious overcrowding at Cul Tra halting site in Salthill.

However, the council’s special meeting was adjourned without agreement after several councillors questioned the location of two proposed sites on the west and east of the city.

Former Galway city mayor and Fine Gael councillor Pádraig Conneely said “negative comments”, as expressed by him, were “informed by reality”.

“This is coming from what I see, hear and know and I don’t think any decent, hardworking people anywhere should have to endure unacceptable behaviour,” Mr Conneely told The Irish Times.

Local authorities

The meeting had heard presentations from the GTM and from former Cavan County Council manager Jack Keyes who is acting as consultant to the Traveller-led housing association, Cena.

Mr Keyes has previously claimed the failure of many local authorities to deliver Traveller housing had been due less to resources and more to attitudes.

Ms O’Riada said some councillors in Galway were very informed, but some councillors failed to understand the requirements.

“Galway’s chief executive Brendan McGrath appreciates the situation, but he is not getting the support of elected representatives,”she said.

Dublin was already working on Traveller-specific accommodation, so “it could be done”.

The recently published Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) study found that 56 per cent of Travellers lived in overcrowded conditions, and their health worsened more dramatically than non-Travellers as they aged.

It recommended “mainstream and highly targeted policies” related to education, employment, housing and health, as well as recognition of Traveller ethnicity.

Galway city councillors are due to meet again on March 6th to discuss the issue.