Traveller representatives walk out of housing meeting

Groups stage ‘peaceful protest’ at conference against system that is ‘failing’ community

Chair of the Irish Traveller Movement Brigid Quilligan (left) and supporters walked out the Traveller accommodation conference at Dublin Castle today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Chair of the Irish Traveller Movement Brigid Quilligan (left) and supporters walked out the Traveller accommodation conference at Dublin Castle today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

Groups representing Travellers staged a “peaceful protest” on Tuesday with about 40 of their members walking out of a Government conference on accommodation.

The four main Traveller organisations – the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM), Pavee Point, Minceirs Whiden and the National Traveller Women’s Forum - will now meet in coming days to discuss the issue.

Brigid Quilligan, director of the ITM, announced the walk-out at the end of her keynote address at the conference which was hosted by the Department of the Environment and the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (NTACC).

The conference was held to discuss improving the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committees around the State. The committees oversee the delivery of Traveller accommodation in each local authority with officials, councillors and Travellers among the members.

The organisations said they could no longer “collude with a system that is failing” Travellers. They are seeking the establishment of a national Traveller housing agency and the removal of responsibility for Traveller accommodation from local authorities.

Carrickmines fire

They also want an independent investigation into the circumstances of the Carrickmines fire in which 10 people died at a temporary halting site last month and an independent safety audit of all Traveller-specific accommodation.

Ms Quilligan said, following the Carrickmines tragedy, her community was “turning against” her.

“They are asking me, ‘What are you doing in Dublin? What are you going to Dublin for? Are you going for dinners? Are you getting something for it? – because your people are dead, your people are being discriminated against day in, day out.”

Travellers on the local committees were some of the “best advocates in the world” and yet were “disrespected, unheard and treated like eejits”, she said.

“We’re not stupid people. We are competent, able people. But we are up against a system that’s racist and destined to fail us no matter how hard we work. There are serious questions to be asked,” Ms Quilligan added.

“Why are people with racist agendas who represent people who do not like Travellers, who do not want Travellers in their areas, making decisions about Traveller accommodation? Why is our State colluding with this? Why are we colluding with this?”

She said that after 17 years the local committees were not working and there continues to be “an increase in families sharing facilities with others having no access to services”.

Over the five-year period from 2009-2013, Ms Quilligan said, just nine local authorities fulfilled their own Traveller accommodation targets. The community demanded action, she added.

Government and local authority officials were present as the Travellers and several advocates left. Chair of the NTACC, Eoin O’Sullivan, described their action an “insult to the organisers of the conference”.

Martin Collins of Pavee Point said he was “really pleased” with the protest. It was not a “general disengagement from the process”, he said.

“But we demand that things have to change. We will meet in the next few days to see where we go from here.”