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Monday 1 September 2014

Travellers faced threats before home set on fire

Probe into 'last warning' letter posted anonymously to family

JIM CUSACK

Published 08/04/2012 | 05:00

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GARDAI are investigating a second threat against a settled Traveller family whose allocated council house in Kilkenny was destroyed by fire -- along with all their possessions -- in an attack.

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The five McDonagh children lost their clothing, including family heirloom communion dresses, and photographs of them and their grandparents in the attack on the council house at Kilmacow last weekend.

Michael McDonagh, who is bringing his children up on his own, had moved the family belongings into the house and said his children were "over the moon" at the prospect of living in the newly refurbished bungalow.

Then last Tuesday he received an anonymous letter, sent by post to his current house in Mooncoin, threatening him and his children. Mr McDonagh said the letter, which he has handed to gardai, read: "Now Michael McDonagh. This is your last warning. You have a week-and-a-half to be out of that house. If you are not, that house will be burned to ashes, and take your tinker puppies with you. This is your last warning. Watch your back. Until we meet again."

Mr McDonagh said his children, Bethanie, aged eight; Jason, 10; Patrick, 14; Bernie, 15 and Eileen, 17, had been devastated by the destruction of the house which was burned hours before they were about to take up residence.

"My children are being called these names, knacker and tinkers. We are human beings and my children have a right to go to school and not be called names or confronted. They are very, very upset. The council was very good to us getting this house and spending €110,000 refurbishing it.

"We have lost everything: the children's clothes, communion dresses, birth certificates and the photographs -- the only photographs we have -- of my mother and father, Bernard and Winnie. It is very hurtful to me.

"I want the whole world to know what happened to my family. This is an attack out of prejudice against the Travelling community, against me and my family. This is a racial attack," he said.

Mr McDonagh said his children had been progressing well at school but had, in the last two years, become subject to bullying and name calling. "They are saying to them: 'Go back to your caravan, go back to the side of the road.'"

Local Green Party councillor, Malcolm Noonan, said there was widespread discrimination against Traveller families like the McDonaghs, who have not come to the notice of gardai.

Mr Noonan said: "This is clearly a racist attack, and is being fuelled by scaremongering within local communities.

"The vast majority of Traveller families just wish to better their quality of life and cause no problems whatsoever. We have families living in conditions which are shameful in 21st-Century Ireland, where health and education outcomes are among the poorest of any social group."

He added: "Our housing staff take great care in both the allocation of appropriate housing and in supporting Traveller families. Communities must learn to give these families a chance. This incident, however, is disturbing, and represents a new low."

The three-bedroom bungalow at Dunkitt, Kilmacow, was acquired by Kilkenny Council, and work finished on the refurbishment only last Thursday week. Mr McDonagh and the children moved their belongings in on the Friday and the house was broken into and set on fire in the early hours of Saturday.

The council's director of housing, John McCormack, said the family had been unhappy in their current accommodation, which Mr McDonagh said was due to increasing intimidation of the children.

Garda sources in Kilkenny said Mr McDonagh was a man of good standing and they were taking the attack and the threats to him and his family very seriously. They asked anyone with information to contact Mooncoin garda station.

Sunday Independent

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