Travellers picket Mayo council over efforts to relocate Syrian family

Protesters say they should be given priority over ‘foreigners’ to housing in Castlebar

Travellers protest outside council offices in  Castlebar: They say they have been on the   housing lists for years and their accommodation needs should be given priority. Photograph: Alison Laredo

Travellers protest outside council offices in Castlebar: They say they have been on the housing lists for years and their accommodation needs should be given priority. Photograph: Alison Laredo

 

A group of Travellers have staged a protest over efforts by Mayo County Council to relocate a Syrian refugee family in Castlebar.

The picketers, members of the extended McDonagh family, are living in caravans in the Castlebar area. They say they have been on the council housing lists for years and their accommodation needs should be given priority over “foreigners”.

Jason McDonagh, who lives in a trailer with his wife Helen and one child at the N5 Business Park on the outskirts of Castlebar, was among those picketing the council’s head office on Wednesday.

“We’re Irish citizens. I don’t see why they won’t give us accommodation in Castlebar where we are from,” he said.

There were tensions on Tuesday at the Cois Abhainn estate on the northeastern edge of Castlebar when a group of Syrians assigned to a semidetached house arrived in a coach to take up residence.

Gardaí were called to deal with what was described as a “potentially boisterous situation”.

Stalemate situation With no

resolution to the stalemate situation discernible, the council opted to make “alternative accommodation arrangements” for the Syrian family.

Afterwards, protesters handed in a petition to Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s local constituency office in Castlebar.

As she picketed on Wednesday outside the council offices, Kathleen McDonagh, who lives at Cois Abhainn, said three of her sons, along with their wives and children, have been living in caravans in the area for years without permanent homes being found for them.

Mother of two Teresa McDonagh, a daughter-in-law of Kathleen McDonagh, said she “got really vexed when she heard these foreign people had arrived in a bus”.

She said she had put her name down for the property involved but the council told her the quota for Traveller families on the estate had been reached and they would not be able house another Traveller family there.

John Condon, head of the Castlebar Municipal District, said Traveller families are treated the same way as other people on the social housing list.

“Holding protests of this nature is not helping their case,” he added.

Mr Condon said the council is proceeding with plans to accommodate 17 Syrian refugees over the coming weeks and is “delighted to be in a position to do so”.