Düsseldorf dissipates tensions with Irish Travellers

Head of Irish Business Network mediates with Traveller gathering in German city

Bild story on gathering of Irish Travellers in Düsseldorf:  “Someone in the town hall had the foresight to get an Irish person to talk to the Travellers.”

Bild story on gathering of Irish Travellers in Düsseldorf: “Someone in the town hall had the foresight to get an Irish person to talk to the Travellers.”


Irish residents of Düsseldorf have praised the western German city’s handling of the recent arrival of a large group of Traveller families from Ireland.

Every year, extended Traveller families meet in Germany for holidays and weddings around the Feast of the Assumption.

But their arrival in large numbers, combined with illegal camping and some anti-social behaviour, has infuriated some German residents and frustrates local politicians.

After first reports of Travellers in the western city of Neuss at the weekend, about 95 caravans and an estimated 500 people appeared on Monday evening in nearby Düsseldorf.

They were camping illegally on a meadow beside the Rhine river and city authorities ordered them to leave by Tuesday at 2pm.

When they showed no signs of moving, the town hall called longtime Düsseldorf resident Paul Cahill and asked him to act as mediator.

Mr Cahill agreed, was collected in a police van and whisked to the site where a standoff loomed between the Irish families and rows of black-clad police.

“When the Travellers saw this incredible show of police force – it looked like a Hollywood movie – I think they got scared,” he said.

Sorry for ‘aggro’

Most left, he said, some apologised for the “aggro” and Mr Cahill negotiated with remainers, including one man who complained of heavy-handed tactics and discrimination.

“He said, ‘This is a big plot against us, I am going to jump off the bridge [into the Rhine]’,” said Mr Cahill. “I said: ‘Well make sure you wear your swimming trunks.’”

Some other towns and cities in western Germany have been grappling with the arrival of other large groups, with many blocking popular sites with boulders and other objects.

Newspapers in recent days have reported on the “Irish Tinkers” – the story made Bild on Thursday – while Germany’s Sat1 station carried a breakfast television report about the arrival of about 600 Travellers in the small town of Ginsheim-Gustavsburg. A graphic over the report read: “Help! The Irish are coming.”

One convenience store employee said the Irish visitors “carried on like Indians”. “They rampaged, stole things, I’m just relieved they’re gone again,” she said.

A local beer garden waitress said the holidaymakers “screamed a lot, drank a lot and didn’t leave when they were supposed to”.

Others spoke of loud music, gangs of aggressive young women and drunken car races.

After experience in recent years, local police spokesman Daniel Kalus said they had acted quickly to warn the illegal campers on arrival “about the consequences of their actions”.

“We were able to calm the situation down and noticed the evening passed off peacefully after that,” he said.

De-escalation strategy

Back in Düsseldorf, Mr Cahill, president of Germany’s Irish Business Network, praised the city’s de-escalation strategy.

“Düsseldorf deserves credit for this,” he said. “Someone in the town hall had the foresight to get an Irish person to talk to the Travellers. I think that is the approach that should be taken in the future.”

A spokeswoman for the Irish Traveller Movement said it was not aware of public order incidents involving Irish Travellers in Germany.

“We can’t police it, we don’t monitor it. It’s not part of what we do,” she said. “When young people go away on J1 visas do we sit down collectively as a group of normally middle class white Irish people and say: ‘Now this is how you have to behave when you get there’? This is an individual thing.”

She added it was often a small minority that caused any sort of trouble, and some of those involved could be Travellers based in the UK which was beyond the remit of the Irish Traveller Movement.