Carrickmines tragedy ‘has raised questions for society’

Removal held for five members of Connors family who died in Dublin halting site fire

 The removal of Thomas, Sylvia, Christopher, Jim and  Mary Connors at the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, Balally, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

The removal of Thomas, Sylvia, Christopher, Jim and Mary Connors at the Church of the Ascension of the Lord, Balally, Dublin. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

The settled community in Ireland needs to move beyond its stereotyping of Travellers and learn to walk in their shoes, the removal for five victims of the Carrickmines fire tragedy heard on Wednesday evening.

“Many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveller community," parish priest Fr Dermot Lane  said  as he received the remains of the five members of the Connors family who died in the halting site blaze, at the Church of the Ascension of the Lord in Balally in Dublin, where the family had worshipped.

“We must learn, above all, to walk in the shoes of the other if we are to develop genuinely inclusive and pluralistic societies," Fr Lane said. “It is unhelpful to engage in the blame-game concerning this national tragedy. Instead, we must move beyond misunderstanding, beyond the standard stereotypes and caricatures."

Fr Lane told mourners that the tragedy had “disturbed the consciences of all of us.

“It has raised serious questions about our priorities as a society, and searching questions about the responses, or lack of responses, by successive governments to a variety of reports going back 50 years, to the mid-1960s.

“These questions touch on a number of very serious issues for all of us: issues about the provision of adequate sites and housing for the Traveller community; issues about the persistent reality of social inequalities between the Traveller community and the settled community; issues about deeply ingrained cultural prejudices.”

The bodies of Thomas and Sylvia Connors, both aged 27, and their children Jim (5), Christie (2), and baby Mary (5-months), were brought to the church in preparation for their funeral there on Thursday and burial in Wexford on Friday.

The family was well-known and respected in the church and their children were baptised there, Fr Lane said.

“The baptism of Thomas in 2011 was memorable,” said Fr Lane, “because Thomas was born in Holy Week, and his dad, Thomas, swung by the parish with Sylvia in the van to announce the birth of Thomas and request the christening of his new son.

“It was agreed to have him baptised at the Easter vigil, and in the course of the conversation, Thomas said, with a glow in his face, we expect to be back again next year. And sure enough, they were back with baby Christopher!”

The whole of Balally parish was in mourning, the priest said, “because you were, and are, an important part of the Balally community”.

He said that he hoped the family could find consolation in their faith.

About 300 parishioners, together with members of the wider Traveller community, packed the church for the removal.

The mood was sombre and reflective.

The three white coffins of the children were placed closest to the altar. The coffins of their parents were placed in front of them.

The words on the wreath spelt out the enormity of the loss: Connors, mammy and daddy, son, niece, nephew, grandchildren.

‘Important lessons’

Fr Lane said there were “important lessons to be learned”.

“If we are to move forward, all must be involved in a new consultation and a new conversation, and that means bringing together local authorities, local communities and the Traveller communities.

“Of course, they must surely be offered appropriate accommodation as soon as possible, so that they can begin to rebuild their broken and bruised lives.”

The Government was represented at the ceremony by Minister for Children Dr James Reilly, who paid his respects to each member of the grieving families.

The funeral Mass takes place in the church at 11.30am on Thursday.

As people left the removal on Wednesday night, many kissed the coffins of the dead children, as their relatives wept in the front pews.