Gardai in bid to avert all-out Traveller war
Published 27/12/2010 | 05:00
GARDAI working around the clock to prevent an all-out Traveller war in the midlands admit the feuding is "more vicious" than ever.
Senior members of the force are now specialising in Traveller conflict, as long-running disputes continue to destroy the lives of innocent families.
Detectives revealed that, in some cases, their "hands are tied" as perpetrators get away with suspended sentences.
The threat of a lengthy jail term hanging over them has not stopped a handful of men from continuing a reign of terror in their home towns.
Innocent families, who are on the periphery of the feuds, have caged up their homes in housing estates in the midlands for fear of being petrol-bombed.
The region has seen a series of ugly incidents in the past 12 months including murder, pitchfork attacks, arson, violent disorder, shots fired at homes and criminal damage.
Last month, a prominent Traveller and his son were attacked with a machete between Moate and Athlone, Co Westmeath.
Gardai said the altercation could be linked to four previously reported incidents this year. It all started when a "heated exchange" took place between the occupants of two vehicles. The car of at least one passer-by was damaged in the incident. In the wake of the attack, Superintendent Aidan Glacken of Athlone gardai called on feuding families to contact the force or a mediator.
"There has been a tradition in feuds in the past to try and extract retaliation without resorting to the law. We would ask them not to do that. We are asking people if they have grievances, genuine grievances, to let us solve those," he said.
Officers are now calling for mediation to become part of the criminal justice system.
"In Ireland and the UK, mediation is not part of the criminal justice system but it is in other parts of Europe such as Belgium. It's useful because it allows us to see how people are behaving before they go to court. If they're co-operating with mediators, we'll know," said Supt Denis Shields.
Supt Shields believes mediation is the "way forward" and prevents retaliation attacks.
"In the midlands, we are trying to use the mediation initiative. Gardai and Travellers are training together." He said Traveller conflict was "very complex" and the motive and degree of violence varied.
Gardai working in the midlands seized a huge haul of deadly weapons in raids on halting sites over the past year.
During one such raid in Athlone, detectives recovered iron bars, hammers, hatchets and pick axe handles.
Armed gardai, meanwhile, were drafted in to prevent opposing Traveller families fighting at the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, after a violent altercation resulted in the stabbing to death of Derek McDonagh (28). He was knifed just 100 metres from a primary school on September 20.