Police raids on homes of Traveller families in Ireland

15 July 1999

The Southside Travellers Action Group reported police raids on Traveller homes and sites in county Dublin, which on one site in Shankill were reportedly preceded by shots being fired at the site by unknown persons. In the early daylight hours of May 22, the Gardai - the Irish police - reportedly raided a site in Shankill, county Dublin, where two families of Irish Travellers, including about six children, were living. Reportedly, the Gardai entered the caravans where the families were asleep, without asking for permission to enter. They ordered the inhabitants, including women and children, to get up out of bed. The Gardai then proceeded to search the caravans. Some Travellers reported that the police were holding a piece of paper in their hands which may have been a search warrant, but as they are mostly not able to read or write they could not tell and said it could have been any piece of paper. The Travellers told the Southside Travellers Action Group that they did not know of any reason why the police targeted their site. The police were reportedly searching for unspecified stolen goods as part of an extensive search allegedly carried out on all sites where Traveller families were living or camped in the Shankill area, as well as in other areas across Dublin. Gardai reportedly raided the homes of some 130 Traveller families between Friday, May 21 and Monday, May 24. The Gardai apparently gave no explanation for making raids on Traveller homes, arrested no one and reportedly did not recover any stolen goods.

Prior to the raid on that site, at around 11:00 pm on May 21, six or seven gun shots were reportedly fired at the site in Shankill. No one was injured and no property was damaged. The Traveller families were camped on privately owned land behind a housing estate without permission and had reportedly previously been verbally harassed by local residents. According to the Southside Travellers Action Group, the families have lived in the area for about sixteen years. In recent years the local authorities have allegedly put boulders on unofficial sites on public and private land where the Travellers had camped in the past, forcing them onto privately owned land. The families are reportedly harassed by the police when they stop on private land, and by the local authorities on public land. The two families who were shot at have since reportedly moved to another private piece of land, where they have again been verbally harassed. The Gardai conducted a brief investigation into the shooting, which they allegedly suspended since there was no evidence to support the claims that shots had been fired.

In other news concerning Irish Travellers, reports suggest that many Traveller families remain on the roadside, with no room on authorised halting sites and facing court injunctions to remove them from unauthorised camps. On March 19, The Examiner reported that a group of Traveller families living on an unofficial halting site in Cork in the south of the Irish Republic faced an injunction to remove them from the site, although, according to a spokesperson for the Travellers' Visibility Group, the four official halting sites in the town were already full. On March 22, the Irish Times reported a controversy that had arisen after some Travellers had moved on to a site next to a nature reserve on the edge of Dublin. A group of ten Traveller families had moved on to the site following a successful campaign to prevent planning permission being given for a set of apartment blocks. Although the families were parked on private land, the local councils continued to threaten them with court orders to remove them from the site. In a letter to the Irish Times on April 19, Ms Grace Fayne of Dublin reported that a park to celebrate the turn of the millennium was being proposed for a local site where a group of Travellers were camped. Ms Fayne had also previously received a letter from a local representative calling on the Gardai to seize the trailers in which these Travellers were living. She expressed the concern that these Travellers were to be deprived of the place they lived, possibly without being offered alternatives, and all in order to build a „millennium park". In April, several Irish newspapers reported the case of a widowed Traveller, Ms McDonagh, against whom an injunction was sought for being parked illegally near New Ross, Wexford County, in the east of Ireland. At a hearing on April 15, the judge ordered that Ms McDonagh be temporarily accommodated in a house in nearby Adamstown until she could be given permanent accommodation in New Ross. However, residents living near the house protested at Ms McDonagh being moved into the house and she herself decided that she could not live there after such a reaction. The County Council then began to search for a new house for Ms McDonagh.

Discrimination against Travellers in Ireland has also been reported recently. The Irish Olympic boxer Francie Barrett was reportedly refused entrance to a night club in Galway because he was a Traveller. The owners of the night club later claimed that the refusal was an error on behalf of the staff and invited the boxer back, but Mr Barnett told The Examiner that he would not go to the night club. According to the same article, two hotels in Dublin cancelled bookings for dinner for an international conference on discrimination last year when they heard that Gypsies and Travellers were involved.

On May 14, in its concluding comments on Ireland, following the submission of the State Party report, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights regretted the high rate of illiteracy among Traveller children, the persistence of poverty among Traveller communities and the continuation of discrimination against Travellers in areas such as education, employment and housing. The Committee went on to urge the Government to „enact the legislation to combat discrimination affecting the Traveller community" and to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). Ireland signed the CERD in 1978, but has never ratified it. On April 19, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Members of Parliament John O'Donoghue, announced the publication of the Equality Bill, 1999. The bill was intended to complement the Employment Equality Act of 1998 and the Government claimed that this Bill would enable Ireland to ratify the CERD, and to lift their reserve on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The main features of the bill were that it outlawed discrimination on thirteen grounds, including race, nationality, national or ethnic origin and membership of the Traveller community. The bill deals with discrimination in areas outside employment, for example in education and provision of accommodation.

(ERRC, The Examiner, The Irish Times, Southside Travellers Action Group, Wexford People)


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