Sunday 11 December 2016

Traveller gangs targeting unsupervised gaelic clubs in nationwide crime spree

Published 04/07/2010 | 05:00

A SPEAKER identified only as "James from County Meath" told Pat Kenny on last Monday's The Frontline on RTE that Travellers occupying a site close to where he lived had opened an entrance on to the main N2 road to Navan.

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He said his daughter had sought planning permission to build a house with an entrance on to a minor road in the vicinity and had waited 15 years for permission from Meath County Council. His son had waited four years for a similar permission. Both had paid the council in the region of €15,000.

Gardai in Meath last week agreed with the views expressed by 'James' that there had been a rise in the number of illegal sites occupied by Travellers in the county in the past two years. One site, bought by Travellers just under two years ago, has three illegal entrances and can also be accessed through shrubbery. The site, with a variety of pre-fabricated houses, caravans and trailers, was raided last year. It had a set of very expensive ornate lanterns in front of the main housing area. These were examined and it was found they had been stolen from a house in Wicklow a short time earlier.

A group believed to consist of young Traveller men has been targeting GAA clubs in the past year, arriving when teams are training, and breaking into cars and the clubhouses as well as stealing vehicles, particularly 4x4s.

The incidents prompted the Garda Crime Prevention Office, based in Athlumney House, Navan, to email GAA clubs "in relation to the recent incidents in the county involving thefts of players' belongings and property".

Gardai advised teams that: "During training sessions and games it is recommended that the dressing rooms be securely locked when not supervised. Locks on doors to dressing rooms should be good quality and old ones replaced.

"Players should be advised regarding the security of their personnel belongings including their car keys. Avoid taking valuables to dressing rooms when possible. Players should be advised not to leave their car keys in the cars while unattended."

Alongside the targeting of the GAA clubs there is a rise in the far more lucrative and professional vehicle theft being carried out by adult Traveller males.

A large number of 4x4s have also been stolen from farms. Gardai say that farmers are still in the habit of leaving the keys in the vehicles when they are out and about on their land. It is believed a sophisticated ring of car thieves are operating in the county, having the 4x4s stolen on order and either breaking them for parts or "ringing" them with new plates and exporting them to the UK or the Continent.

Gardai have targeted the Traveller gangs whom they believe are responsible for these thefts and have recovered vehicles, other stolen goods and detected plants for washing and laundering diesel and other illicit operations. These are based on sites bought by the Traveller families and used illegally without any planning permissions.

While the identity of the Travellers believed to be responsible for the increase in crime seems to be common knowledge in Meath, no one is prepared to speak publicly.

The issue receives very little coverage in the local media as it does throughout Ireland where similar activity involving criminal, nomadic Travellers is taking place.

At the start of Monday's The Frontline, Pat Kenny announced that some people whom the programme had contacted to speak on the issue had withdrawn "for fear of reprisal to themselves of their property".

The programme progressed in the same way that the debate on criminality among the Traveller community has progressed for the past two decades in Ireland. This, according to people such as Felim O'Rourke, the economist who has made studies of nomadic Travellers, is largely due to the State-sponsored protections and support for elements of the Travelling community which are increasingly engaging in lucrative criminality while being hugely supported by State benefits.

Figures supplied by the Traveller representative group Pavee Point in a 2008 report showed that 75 per cent of Traveller adult males were unemployed at the height of the economic boom.

Another speaker on The Frontline pointed out that in Wexford in 1992, there were 190 Traveller families in the county and there are now 600, almost all in receipt of State benefits while, he said, many were showing "the trappings of wealth".

A figure in government who spoke to the Sunday Independent pointed out that the State operates a highly conflicted policy towards Travellers as an "ethnic" group compared its rigid enforcement and denial of rights to migrants from outside the EU who came here to find work.

One officer said younger gardai were no longer seeking positions in the Garda National Immigration Bureau because, he said, their work frequently involved dragging women and children screaming from their homes.

Gardai say that by contrast, the nomadic Traveller population, with its extraordinary levels of unemployment and welfare claimants, is now a State-protected group encouraged to avoid legitimate employment. One source said that their treatment before the courts was "amazing" and that when they were sentenced to imprisonment, they were sent to the Castlerea semi-open prison in Roscommon, or to what he described as the "holiday camp" of the open Loughan House in Cavan.

Gardai say it now appeared that no public authority in Ireland was prepared to make the effort to tackle and deal with infringements in planning laws when it came to the Traveller community.

The Government appears to have no defined policy on criminality and welfare sponging among nomadic Travellers other than to donate more and more public money. Every three years, the State has to respond to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which in turns examines Ireland based on complaints by groups such as Pavee Point.

Last autumn in drawing up payments from Government departments to Traveller groups -- aside from welfare and unemployment benefits -- it was discovered that in 2008 alone, as the country slid into recession, €140m of public money was paid to Traveller groups.

Sunday Independent

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