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After the Fire: Call for an Independent National Traveller Agency

Bernard Joyce discusses the prejudices exposed by the Carrickmines tragedy.

On Saturday 10th October, ten members of our community died in one of the worst fire tragedies in the history of the Irish State. Willy Lynch and his beloved partner Tara Gilbert, who was four months pregnant and their daughters Kelsey (4), Jodie (9) and their uncle Jimmy were all buried in Bray, County Wicklow.

This was followed two days later by the funerals of Thomas Connors, Sylvia Connors and children Jim (5), Christy (2) and baby Mary just five months old; two families wiped out completely in tragic circumstances.

The Connors were brought to their resting place in Wexford Town. We will never forget each and every person who lost their lives on that fatal night in Carrickmines, County Dublin. This was one of the most emotional heartbreaking funerals I have ever attended. I only hope that the Connors, Lynchs and Gilberts have the courage and strength to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the Carrickmines Fire Tragedy. This will forever haunt me and every other person who attended the funerals. Our community in the aftermath has struggled to try and come to terms with this tragedy.

There was an outpouring of support from all sectors of Irish society. President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins sent a message of condolences, the Taoiseach spoke about the tragedy. The local community described how they were shocked, political parties made public statements, while political leaders attended the funerals and mixed with Travellers and mourners and books of condolences were opened across the country. It felt like this could well be a turning point for all of us.

What came to light was the overcrowding on this site; the poor conditions, the temporary nature of Carrickmines Traveller site, all of this exposed the cuts from 2000-2012. This Government and the previous Government saw funding for Traveller accommodation drop from €70 million to €4 million euro from 2007-2012. There was an under-spend of €50 million. Questions have to be asked, why were the families in Carrickmines living in temporary accommodation, when there was a war chest to build permanent Traveller accommodation? Where did this budget allocation go, what was it spent on? Why did they not build?

It felt like this could well be a turning point for all of us.

A separate and sinister development was unfolding in Rockville Drive. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council wrote to Rockville Drive residents, explaining the circumstances leading to emergency accommodation being provided for the remaining 15 members of the Carrickmines fire. Given the loss and horrific tragedy, the reaction one could expect was co-operation, compassion, empathy and understanding, however this wasn’t to be. The manner and way that residents spoke without really being affected by this human tragedy that unfolded on their road was disrespectful and and hurtful. I was relieved on a personal level that the remaining survivors of the Carrickmines Fire Tragedy wouldn’t be living beside such people.

We have come to recognise the deep-rooted institutionalised racism that has been exposed in the worst possible circumstances, the extreme level of social exclusion and racism experienced in the aftermath. We are outraged that ten members of our community are dead. We have mourned for two entire families, now we are outraged by what has happened.

Father Dermot Lane said this tragedy has rightly disturbed the consciences of all of us and raised serious issues on safe, adequate Traveller culturally-appropriate accommodation and raised the issues of social inequalities between Travellers and the wider settled community and deeply engrained cultural prejudices, saying that “many of us in the settled community have failed to walk with empathy in the shoes of our brothers and sisters in the Traveller community.”

We need to let this become a turning point and call for support for a national independent Traveller Accommodation Agency that will remove any political interference with the delivery of Traveller accommodation, will audit Traveller accommodation and develop a national Traveller accommodation plan for delivering culturally-appropriate Traveller accommodation.

Bernard Joyce is the Irish Traveller Movement’s regional community development officer for Cavan.

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