Halting site fire in Carrickmines: An unspeakable tragedy prompts genuine and widespread grief
Inquiry must consider not just the immediate causes of the 10 fatalities, but the broader questions of conditions faced by Traveller community
The deaths of 10 people from two Traveller families in the fire at the Glenamuck Road South halting site in Carrickmines is a national tragedy, the greatest loss of life in a single fire since 48 people died in the Stardust nightclub in Dublin in 1981. Five of the Carrickmines dead are children under 10, including a six-month old baby. One pregnant mother is believed to have died.
The precise cause of the fire in a portable home on this well-established four-bay halting site remains uncertain, but the dreadful consequences were undoubtedly exacerbated by the crowded conditions and “temporary nature” of the accommodation.
Any inquiry into the deaths must consider not just the immediate causes of the fatalities, but the broader questions of the conditions faced by this community. Was this, in truth, a tragedy waiting to happen? Are other families among the more than 1,000 living on halting sites just as vulnerable?
The national outpouring of sympathy is genuine and heartfelt.Taoiseach Enda Kenny, President Michael D Higgins Higgins and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin are echoing what ordinary people are saying to a community that has long felt marginalised and ostracised - “You are of us, these deaths are of us. We feel your pain as if our own families were touched.”
But do we really yet understand what this 25,000-strong community, and their more than 4,485 families , has to endure?
Are we ready to take on and root out the insidious daily prejudice and discrimination as if it were inflicted on one of our own? Are we ready yet to accept halting sites on our doorsteps? Or help confront the challenges in a community where the risk of suicide is six times higher than for the general population. Or unemployment hits more than four out of five.
The All Ireland Traveller Health Study (2010) reported infant mortality rates are about three and a half times higher than in the settled community, and life expectancy at birth is more than 10 years lower . Yet the Department of Health’s Priority Areas, Actions and Deliverables for the Period 2015-2017 document, published in January 2015, does not include Irish Traveller health as a specific priority area. Such issues must all be revisited urgently.
But even more immediately, it is essential the full range of public services and supports be made available to the affected families and their wider community. The response to the tragedy, both officially and unofficially, must show us to be a caring people. Just as the deaths of six people in the Berkeley balcony collapse in the summer touched the lives of many who did not know them personally, it is right we all grieve for the Carrickmines dead.