Friday 30 September 2016

'Middle-class turned its back on Travellers'

Published 17/01/2016 | 02:30

Conference: MC and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh talks to Rosaleen McDonagh and host Senator Katherine Zappone at the Fempower event in Tallaght. Photos: Tony Gavin
Conference: MC and former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh talks to Rosaleen McDonagh and host Senator Katherine Zappone at the Fempower event in Tallaght. Photos: Tony Gavin
Fempower: Sex worker Kate McGrew
Event: Audience members at the Fempower conference in Tallaght Stadium centre yesterday. Photo: Tony Gavin

Disability activist and Traveller Rosaleen McDonagh has described how the Carrickmines fire tragedy - in which 10 people died - brought memories of a traumatic incident from her own childhood flooding back.

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Speaking at a feminist conference in Dublin yesterday afternoon, Ms McDonagh recalled how her family suffered a violent attack at the hands of an anti-Traveller mob.

"I was driving here today and I was coming down the Tallaght by-pass and I was reminded of an incident that occurred when I was a child," she said.

"I was 11 years old and I was living in a caravan on the side of the Tallaght by-pass and there was an anti-Traveller march on. They came to our home on the site and turned our caravan upside down," she said. "I wasn't able to get out.

"And in some ways that moment and that trauma came to mind last year when a group of middle-class, middle-aged people turned their backs on the Traveller families in Carrickmines.

"Families who needed a home while their families' bodies were still in the morgue.

"Of all the anti-Traveller incidents that occurred, I don't remember that kind of callous mentality," she said.

"And driving down the by-pass, I thought of how, in lots of ways, with the same-sex marriage referendum for example, the country has moved on a lot since I was a child. But in other ways it is still the same old Ireland that I hoped we had left behind and that [not in my back yard] mentality still very much exists in Ireland today.

"That incident was very traumatic and in many ways we haven't really moved on," she said.

She called for people to "acknowledge, respect and protect" the Travelling community's traditions and way of life.

Ten members of two families, including five children, were killed after a fire broke out at a halting site in Carrickmines, south Dublin in October last year. A six-month-old baby was among the dead.

The fire was caused by an unattended oven that was left switched on, according to the findings of a forensic investigation.

The south Dublin tragedy represented the largest loss of lives in a single fire here since the Stardust nightclub inferno of 1981.

The findings will be presented at the inquests into the deaths.

The blaze claimed the lives of Willie Lynch (25); his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27); their children Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4); and Willie's brother, Jimmy (39), who were all visiting the halting site on Glenamuck Road.

The other victims were Thomas Connors (27) and his wife Sylvia (25) and their children Jim (5), Christy (2), and Mary, aged five months.

Rosaleen - who was speaking at the 'fempower' conference, a day of empowerment, storytelling and action for women's equality organised by Katherine Zappone, Independent General Election candidate in Dublin South West - also said feminism is "largely based around middle -class, able-bodied women and their issues" and she said Traveller women and women with disabilities were still on the periphery of the movement.

At the event, women from all backgrounds gathered to discuss the role that feminism has played in all of their lives.

Sunday Independent

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