Michael Brennan: 'No polling card and local TDs just ignore us' -- why Travellers won't cast vote
Published 24/02/2011 | 05:00
It is not as if there are no problems for politicians to deal with in Dunsink Lane, which is hidden away from passing drivers
WINNIE Keenan is not going to vote on Friday --and neither will any of the 60 Traveller families living nearby.
There will be no polling card arriving at her caravan in the Dunsink Lane halting site in Dublin -- because there is no postal service.
And even if she wanted to go to the polling station, she would be unable to get a taxi -- because taxis don't call out to the lane.
Winnie, who has worked as a mediator in Traveller disputes, said there was not a single election poster up in the halting site or the nearby roadside camp.
"I don't think anyone anywhere would be voting in Dunsink because you wouldn't get the (polling) card and there's no encouragement. The local TDs and councillors, in the two years I've been here, I've never seen them on site," she told the Irish Independent.
But it is not as if there are no problems for politicians to deal with in Dunsink Lane in Finglas, which is hidden away from the view of passing motorists on the M50.
One key issue is fire safety -- Winnie's grandson Michael (2) burnt to death in a caravan fire last year.
He was playing with other children in the disused caravan when the fire started accidentally, and there was no hose on the water connection point nearby.
"I'm not saying it would have saved his life but at least he would have had a chance. We were in the caravan, but we couldn't find him," Winnie said.
The fire crews had to get their water connection from under a manhole instead -- and the hose was delivered a week later.
Winnie pointed out the burnt ground close to her own caravan where the fire took place. Her grandson's little green bike is tied to a lamppost and surrounded by flowers from a recent Traveller wedding.
"The young bridesmaids came over and asked permission to put the bouquets there. It was nice of them to think of him," she said.
But there is little chance that the problems of the 36,000-strong Travelling community will be a priority in the general election due to their lack of voting power and the lack of a single Traveller candidate.
Yet the unemployment rate among Travellers is around 86pc (most of those in Dunsink Lane are on social welfare) compared to 14pc nationally.
Dunsink Lane itself resembles an apocalyptic scene out of Cormac McCarthy's novel 'The Road', with thousands of tonnes of foul-smelling rubbish dumped along the side.
Winnie said the rubbish was being dumped there illegally by settled people and Travellers from other areas -- despite the issue being brought up at council level by Sinn Fein councillor Dessie Ellis and Socialist Party councillor Clare Daly.
"There's a €50 fine, but it's (a) slap on the wrist. They will clean it up, but the issue of the illegal dumping is not getting addressed whatsoever," she said.
A local resident, Eileen, stopped her car to complain about the health risks posed by the rubbish. She said the contaminated run-off was going straight into the leaking pipes on the road that provided the site's water supply.
"The health conditions here are so bad. That's why my kids are getting sick -- my young fellow has leukaemia and my other son has diarrhoea," she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is taking a prosecution against a truck driver spotted dumping rubbish on the lane and is in discussions with gardai about putting up security cameras.
Dunsink Lane acquired a notorious reputation after clashes there between some Travellers and gardai in 2004. There were also stoning attacks on fire crews responding to emergency calls.
But Winnie said the "small minority" of Traveller families involved in such incidents had moved on and there was now a good relationship with gardai, who patrolled the site every day.
"If there is any trouble, there wouldn't be any hesitation in ringing the guards," she said.
The Traveller support group Pavee Point has proposed reserving a seat in the Dail for a Traveller -- as a way of getting the community involved in politics.
"We do engage with ministers and we would like to see them engage with the community at a much more real level.
"It would be nice to see Travellers going to the Dail," said the group's joint co-ordinator, Maria Daly.