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Tuesday 20 August 2019

Travellers 'in a state of panic' as councils seek security teams for evictions from private land

Actor John Connors pictured at home in Coolock. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.
Actor John Connors pictured at home in Coolock. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.

Aoife Moore

THE travelling community is in "a state of panic" as Dublin's councils seek to hire a full-time security company to evict families from private land, it has been warned.

A joint tender document from the four local authorities was published on June 25 by Dublin City Council saying they are seeking a security firm to help evict Travellers from sites around the county, seven days a week.

The contract's estimated total value excluding VAT is more than €750,000.

John Connors, actor and Travellers' rights activist, said politicians who supported formal recognition for Travellers as a distinct ethnic group in 2017 are hypocrites for their silence on the issue, which could see thousands of travellers evicted during the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the state.

"Dublin has a lot of Travellers, we're talking dozens and dozens of families. In Coolock alone we have around 300 altogether - that's not even going into Fingal or other council areas. We could have thousands of Travellers evicted and where are they going to go?" he said.

"There is an absolute panic, a lot of Travellers are messaging me asking, 'What's going to happen to us? What are we going to do? What can you do?'

"Travellers have a young population, we have so many young kids.

"My family might not be evicted, we've been here 20 years, but what's going to happen to other families? Where are they going to go?

"They don't want us travelling, but they don't want us near them. They're just evicting Travellers to a different council area, it's always someone else's problem."

Then Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced formal recognition for Travellers as a distinct ethnic group in 2017, labelling the move "a historic day for our Travellers and a proud day for Ireland".

Mr Connors said the status recognition was a hollow gesture as figures released in February showed that 10 local authorities in Ireland had failed to draw down any funding for Traveller accommodation last year, while 14 councils failed to use all of the allocated funding.

A recent report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) found that some Travellers were living in "deplorable conditions" in Ireland.

"Recognition is not worth the paper it's printed on, a verbal gesture with no extra rights to preserve our culture," Mr Connors said.

"The tender itself was hateful, it's mindblowing, if it was any other minority there would be uproar.

"In 1963, Taoiseach Charlie Haughey talked about 'the final solution to the itinerant problem will be assimilation' - this is the final solution.

"So many of us have already been broken up and moved away from families. Our culture is being destroyed."

Travellers make up 9 per cent of the homeless population in Ireland, but just 1pc of the overall population.

Dublin city councillor Anthony Flynn said the tender was "beyond farcical".

"The travelling community are an ethnic minority and have rights. I believe the reasoning for this is the land value on many sites. It has already been claimed that builders are eyeing up sites in Coolock and have made offers for the travelling community to leave to make way for land developers," he said.

"At present, in the middle of a housing crisis, the housing stock is not available to re-accommodate families if removed from Traveller sites.

"Councils across the country have not spent monies ring-fenced for Traveller accommodation through 2018, yet now the plan is to make them homeless.

"Enough is not being done to accommodate the travelling community as it is. This, in fact, is a form of social cleansing that will not be accepted.

"Travellers are more at risk of becoming homeless than other communities and we need to address that.

"I will be raising this immediately with the Council Traveller Accommodation Committee and working with John Connors and other stakeholders to address this issue."

Dublin City Council has been approached for comment.

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