Travellers are stereotyped as criminals and are seen as untrustworthy, a protest outside the Dáil over Traveller accommodation heard on Wednesday.
The protest was organised by Minceirs Whiden, an all-Traveller forum, in response to the recent tragedy in Carrickmines where ten people, including five children, died in a fire that engulfed a cabin and a caravan on a temporary halting site on Glenamuck Road, in south Dublin.
A minute’s silence was observed to remember Willie Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27), their children Kelsey (4) and Jodie (9), Willie’s brother Jimmy (39) as well as Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (25), and their children Jim (5), Christy (2), and five-month-old baby Mary
Martin Collins of Pavee Point said the Government’s failure address the Traveller accommodation crisis had led to unacceptable levels of overcrowding and unsafe conditions and was a breach of human rights.
He said there was a lot of anger and frustration at the situation among Travellers.
“Travellers are stereotyped as criminals and untrustworthy. My own son has been called a smelly knacker at school. Travellers are refused access to hotels… We are justifiably angry and we need to harness that anger and energy,” he said.
He said Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly was right to describe the opposition of local residents to housing those left homeless by the tragedy in a field on Rockville Drive, as "shameful".
Residents blocked site preparation work and several meetings failed to resolve the situation
“Why weren’t gardaí called to move the blockade?” Mr Collins asked.
He called for the establishment of an independent agency to drive urgent improvements in accommodation for Travellers and for a moratorium on all evictions.
Quoting from Martin Luther King: "Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred", Mr Collins called for a dignified and disciplined campaign.
The protest heard that 1,500 traveller families are living in substandard, inadequate and overcrowded conditions. It also heard that 25 local authorities failed to meet their Traveller accommodation targets and none of the authorities who failed to do so faced any sanctions.
Hughie Friel of Minceirs Whiden, which means Travellers talking, called on the Government to tackle anti-Traveller racism.
“We are also calling on the Government to re-instate the Traveller accommodation budget, which was cut by almost 90 per cent from €40 million in 2008 to €4 million in 2015,” he said.
Bridgy Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement, spoke of her heartbreak over the tragedy in Carrickmines and said Travellers were marginalised and discrimated against.
“If you are a traveller you are demonised from an infant to an elder. Things have to change for travellers and change doesn’t come for people who ask nicely, changes come when people demand it,” she said.
Geraldine Dunne of the Southside Traveller Action Group said it was terrible that it took a tragedy on the scale of Carrickmines for change to happen.
Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women's Forum called for a public inquiry to ensure it never happened again.
Patrick Nevin of Minceirs Whiden said the State had consistently attacked, eroded and denied Traveller culture.