Travellers and neighbours in Galway's Salthill area have called on the Catholic diocese in Galway to "honour the memory" of the late bishop Eamon Casey by offering more land for Traveller accommodation.
The call was made during a protest on Tuesday in support of 10 Traveller families who face eviction from the Cúl Trá halting site in Lower Salthill due to overcrowding.
Galway City Council has said that it has “fire, health and safety concerns” about the site, which was originally provided on Galway diocesan land with the support of the late bishop Eamon Casey.
The city council says solicitors for the diocese had informed it that “if the current overcrowding continues, ie that more than six families are residing on the site, the agreement will be terminated in March 2019”.
Opposition by a number of city councillors means that the local authority has not been able to meet commitments under the 2014-2018 Traveller Accommodation Programme.
Mother and grandmother Martina Delaney, who is one of the original Cúl Trá residents, said that she and her relatives had integrated well within the Lower Salthill community over the past 20 years.
“My kids and my grandkids have been going to local schools here,” she said. “The city council and Bishop Casey fought to get us in here some 21 years ago, but now both appear to be fighting to get us all out.”
Lower Salthill resident and mother Rachel King said that the Cúl Trá halting site was a model for the State which should be supported, rather than undermined.
“There are really good relationships here between Salthill residents and the Travelling community, but there appears to be an attempt to destroy this,” she said.
Ms Delaney and Ms King said that the diocese could provide extra land and “honour the memory of Bishop Eamon Casey”, who had been so supportive of the community.
Musicians William Howard and Ossian Green performed during the day-long protest at Cúl Trá, with participants seeking refuge from heavy showers at times.
Poets Kevin Higgins and Susan Millar du Mars, who live in Westside, were critical of some local politicians who, they said, had tried to use the issue of Traveller accommodation to garner votes.
“If you take out the word “Traveller” and think of a city council sending eviction letters to 10 families and 23 children under 10 years of age, perhaps people can realise how terrible this is,” Ms Millar du Mars said.
Mr Higgins said that in his 43 years of living in Galway, there had always been “one councillor” who “used latent opposition to Travellers to get elected”.
“I think a lot of people now realise how the issue is being used for political ends,” he said.
Canon Michael McLoughlin, Galway diocese administrator, said that management of the Cúl Trá halting site was the responsibility of the city council.
He said the diocese presumed the local authority would adhere fully to all planning and safety regulations, but would also treat all people to whom they had legal obligations with “courtesy and respect”, according them their “dignity, legal rights, due provisions and entitlements”.
Last month, the Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) withdrew from the city council’s accommodation consultative committee, stating that no new Traveller accommodation had been provided in the city for 20 years – despite it having the largest urban Traveller population outside of Dublin.