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Travellers’ struggles are our struggles too: decent housing for all!

category ireland / britain | migration / racism | opinion / analysis author Wednesday October 14, 2015 20:10author by Tom Murray - WSM Report this post to the editors

Last weekend, ten people died in a fire at a halting site in South Dublin. Thomas Connors, Sylvia Connors, Willie Lynch, Tara Gilbert, and Jimmy Lynch and five children lost lives. Their deaths are a tragedy, and we mourn their loss. But we are also angry. Because we know the loss of their lives was not the outcome of chance or blind fate. Our society, its laws and its institutions are designed to marginalise, to penalise and to discriminate against Travellers (traditionally itinerant ethnic group) . So long as we accept these forms of oppression and exploitation, tragedy will follow tragedy.
traveller_meme.jpg

Take for instance the families’ housing conditions. The Glenamuck Road site where they lived was officially a ‘temporary halting site’ of four bays. But six families had been living there for more than six years in three portacabins and two caravans [1]. Overcrowding and unfit accommodation undoubtedly created a fire hazard. Margaret O’Leary (of Southside Traveller Action Group) said: “They were just beautiful, lovely families. The site up there, they had it spotless, really nice, flowers and everything. But they were living in portacabins up there. If they were living in bricks and mortar I’m sure some of them could have been saved. The families here are devastated and angry too. I’m angry” [1].

The Irish State flies its flag at half-mast. The Taoiseach says the tragedy is ‘unspeakable’ [1]. But the Glenamuck Road site is not an isolated instance of overcrowding and unsafe accommodation. Halting sites across the State involve Traveller families’ ‘doubling up’ in caravan bays and overcrowding in hazardous conditions. Of the 10,226 Traveller families throughout the State, 445 are on “unauthorised sites” and a total of 1,536 families are in overcrowded or unsafe conditions [2]. Why is this happening?

Money is part of the answer. The Irish State has visited austerity – the word that is used to describe our paying off the debts of casino capitalists – with a vengeance on Irish society, but in particular and to a far greater extent on Traveller communities. Under the banners of ‘austerity’ and ‘tough decisions’, the state has eliminated specific provisions that were hard won by the Traveller movement. Cuts to Traveller programmes since 2008 have been described as ‘egregious’, with education down 86% and accommodation down 84%, in comparison to the 4.3% average cuts we have seen in Government spending overall [3,4]. Funding allocated for Traveller-specific accommodation has fallen from €35 million to just over €4 million over the past five years [2].

But money from central government is only part of the answer. Local politicians – in some cases responding to local prejudice, in all cases encouraging it for their own electoral benefit – frequently oppose and delay the provision of appropriate Traveller accommodation. Two years ago, it emerged local authorities had, since 2006, failed to spend €50 million they had been allocated by the Department of the Environment for Traveller accommodation [2]. This year, fifteen local authorities did not draw down funding for Traveller accommodation this year. They are: Carlow, Cavan, Donegal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin, Galway City, Galway County, Laois, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Sligo and Wexford. The Glenamuck Road site where the ten people died was located in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown local authority area.

Racism and prejudice against Travellers are pervasive in Irish politics and Irish society. Some recent examples of public figures engaging in racist stereotypes and discrimination illustrate the point - Travellers could “be sent to Spike Island for all I care” (Fine Gael councillor Eugene Dolan); Travellers should live in “an isolated community of them some place” (Fianna Fáil councillor Sean McEniff); Travellers are “neanderthal men lying in the long grass and living by the law of the jungle” (District Court Judge Seamus Hughes). Perhaps the worst example in recent years was provided by the former Minster for the Environment, Phil Hogan, who engaged in extensive letter-writing to Co. Kilkenny constituents to assure them that a Traveller family would not be moved into their area.

The horror of the Carrickmines' fire is a systematic horror. Because of a system of power, money and prejudice, so many people are living in unsafe accommodation today. Unless we change that system, preventable tragedies will happen again and again. For many years now, Traveller communities and organisations have been engaged in an uphill battle to win ethnic status recognition, to achieve material gains in employment, health and education, and to live with dignity in a society that discriminates against them.

Last July, members of the Workers Solidarity Movement took part in a demonstration for decent Traveller accommodation [5]. Our voices were not listened to. We anarchists expected as much. We know that when those in power destroy from above, we must organise together and build from below. We believe that Travellers and Settled have more in common with one another than we do with Ireland’s rich who would support austerity to protect their wealth and privilege. We believe that Travellers and Settled have more in common with one another than we do with prejudiced politicians like Phil Hogan who would try to divide us and so make it easier for the rich to conquer us.

We have a world to win together. Dignity and decent housing for all!

References

Photo of Traveller demonstration for decent housing in summer, 2015.

[1] Kitty Holland, ‘Books of condolence to open in memory of Carrickmines dead’. Irish Times, October 10, 2015.
[2] Kitty Holland, ‘Analysis: Councils must do more for Travellers after fire’ in Irish Times, October 12, 2015.
[3] B. Harvey, 2013 ‘Travelling with Austerity: a Pavee Point Report’. Available here: http://paveepoint. ie/sitenua/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Pavee- Point-Austerity-PDF-1.pdf
[4] See the analysis, Dermot Sreenan, 2014, ‘Irish Travellers - Apartheid, Irish Style’, available at http://anarkismo.wsm.ie/article/26353.
[5] Irish Travellers protest at city hall over housing. Available at http://www.wsm.ie/c/irish-travellers-protest-city-hall-...using

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