“Classism and racism” colours how we treat Travellers

Article featured in Irish Examiner today from UCC Traveller conference, additional reporting here cites barrister David Joyce, IHREC member.

Jennifer Hough

Traveller families in Cork city are forced to shower at a local swimming pool, share one portaloo and have no piped water or electricity – because the city council refuses to recognize the site they live on.

Breda O’Donoghue, chair of grassroots organization the Traveller Visibility Group, said this particular extended family has children in local schools, good relationships with the settled community, and has been living on the site for 15 years. But, she said, the city council will not install electricity because where they live is deemed an “unofficial” site.

It was just one of many similar stories told to a Traveller housing conference at UCC on Tuesday, organized by Cork and Kerry Traveller Project’s Regional Accommodation Network.

Chair of the conference Bridget Quilligan, the project coordinator of Kerry Travellers, said Traveller families are living in cars, in unsafe accommodation, and regularly presenting to services as suicidal as a direct consequence of their living conditions.

Quilligan said the Carrickmines tragedy, which saw ten Travellers – including five children – die in a fire last October, has “marked us all, it could have been any one of us.”

The aftermath of the horrific fire has seen Travellers mobilize around the housing issue with new vigour and on Tuesday, the conference launched a manifesto to fight for adequate accommodation.

“Projects all across the country have decided our approach has to change,” Quilligan said. “We cannot continue working with local authorities the way we were before, because despite out best efforts, we are not getting results,” she said.

 “We have been shouting for 25 years but all these committees…structures are not working. We are meeting people in complete chaos and stress. When you have no safety and security, everything else is affected. People wonder why our woman are turning to prescription drugs– family life is decimated by insecure accommodation.”

Quilligan said the State is pushing a “policy of assimilation,” pushing Travellers into private rented houses, from which they are evicted, mostly because neighbours don’t want them.

 “It is exhausting for people, the impact on mental health is terrifying. Travellers living in private accommodation cannot let their parents visit, children can’t go outside door, for fear of being bullied or recognized as Travellers.”

David Joyce, barrister and a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said this kind of behaviour in Irish society needs to be called what it is – classism and racism. “People can object to things on legal grounds, but not just because someone is a Traveller, that is racism.”

Joyce said in the last 100 years the law has worked to negate the freedoms that once existed for Travellers.

“Travellers began to be classified in law as nuisances, there was no talk about improving or providing services, or solutions, but just denying their way of life. The law has been used to denigrate and wipe out the community.”

Joyce said he believes the lack of action on behalf of local authorities culminated in the Carrickmines tragedy.

 “Local authorities are not being held to account for bad planning and bad design. There were clear elements of negligence on part of Local Authority in respect of Carrickmines,” he said.

Joyce said there is also an issue that Travellers looking for planning permission to self-fund their own sites are being hit with legislative barriers.

“I know of instances where individuals have gone for planning for themselves, but come up against local connections, or are told caravans are not suitable for long term living, but the same authority is providing caravan accommodation for Travellers elsewhere.”

ENDS

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