The Irish Times view on the Carrickmines deaths: the State must stand with Travellers

Local authorities bear much of the blame for the increase in the number of Traveller families living in unsafe or overcrowded conditions, but Government must take the lead

Far left, Willie Lynch, his partner Tara Gilbert who was pregnant, and their daughters, Jodie and Kelsey. Centre top left, Willie’s brother. Jimmy Lynch. Centre bottom left, Christy Connors, centre top right, Mary Connors, centre bottom right, Jim Connors, and their parents, far right, Thomas and Sylvia Connors.

Far left, Willie Lynch, his partner Tara Gilbert who was pregnant, and their daughters, Jodie and Kelsey. Centre top left, Willie’s brother. Jimmy Lynch. Centre bottom left, Christy Connors, centre top right, Mary Connors, centre bottom right, Jim Connors, and their parents, far right, Thomas and Sylvia Connors.

 

As the brightest stars of our political firmament gathered at Dublin’s Mansion House on Monday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Dáil, just across the Liffey the final day’s evidence at the inquest into the deaths of 10 vulnerable citizens was being heard at Dublin’s Coroner’s Court.

The jury at the inquest into the deaths of Thomas Connors (27) and Sylvia (nee Lynch, 30), three of their children, Jim (5), Christy (3) and six-month-old Mary, Willy Lynch (25), his partner Tara Gilbert (27), her daughter Jodie Gilbert (9) and their daughter Kelsey (4), and Jimmy Lynch (39), returned verdicts of death by misadventure for all 10. They had died in a fire on a Traveller halting site, in the Dublin suburb of Carrickmines, in the early hours of October 10th 2015. Its source was a chip-pan left on an electric ring switched to the highest setting.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Council of Europe’s Committee on Social Rights ruled again that the provision of Traveller accommodation in Ireland remained inadequate, with many sites in poor condition and badly located.

Some 29 people were sleeping on the Carrickmines site, which had been established under emergency powers by Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in 2008. As an “emergency temporary halting site” it was not subject to the same health and safety regulations as permanent sites.

Over the following seven years the council provided utilities, a care-taker and charged the families rent, but they received no commitment as to their safety. What council tenants, other than Travellers in “temporary sites”, receive so little care from their landlords? And so little concern from politicians?

True, local authorities bear much of the blame for the increase in the number of Traveller families living in unsafe or overcrowded conditions. In 2015 Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown was one of 15 council that had not drawn down a cent of funding allocated for Traveller accommodation. There are now 585 families living by the side of the road and 1,115 in “shared housing”.

The impetus for change must come from Government. Councils are legally mandated to draw up five-yearly Traveller Accommodation Programmes but face no legal sanctions when they fail to deliver. Party members who play the anti-Traveller, racist card in local politics must be sanctioned by their parties. Communities intent on stymying safe, secure accommodation for Travellers must be faced down.

Only when this happens can Government claim to be serious about addressing the chronic discrimination faced by Travellers. Only then will it sound credible for our politicians to recite lines from the Democratic Programme, with its commitment to a country “ruled in accordance with the principles of liberty, equality, and justice”.

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