Decades of “institutional racism” characterised by neglect and discrimination by Galway City and County Councils has amounted to “cultural genocide” for the Travelling Community.
That’s according to the Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) which this week released its third Monitoring Report where it claims that the failure of both local authorities to provide adequate and appropriate accommodation for Travellers was wearing people down and forcing them to assimilate “by accepting houses out of desperation”.
Poor accommodation with minimal insulation; a lack of cooking facilities; windows that won’t close; kitchens and toilets sinking into the ground; serious structural defects; and vermin infestation are just some of the problems that are plaguing Traveller families across Galway.
The ‘Traveller Homes Now’ report examines the state of 18 sites Traveller-specific sites and housing schemes across city and county and has identified a plethora of issues.
This bi-annual exercise is carried out by GTM to assess the compliance of the State and local authorities on their obligations under national and international law – and according to this most recent publication, the Traveller family tenants of Galway City and County Councils are “experiencing extremely poor, unsafe and unhealthy accommodation conditions”.
The Traveller Accommodation Programmes of both local authorities are described as “flawed”, while existing accommodation is “in the main, sub-standard and insufficient”.
In the city, the report criticises Galway City Council for failing to draw down the available State funding to provide Traveller accommodation.
“The Local Traveller Action Committee is not fit for purpose. Galway City Council continues to fail to draw down its Traveller accommodation budget.”
Similarly, the report said the Council is “forcing” families into housing that is culturally inappropriate and there were no actions in the Traveller Accommodation Programme to rectify this.
“The Nomadic needs of the Traveller Community are not being met, as currently the so-called transient site is being used to accommodate families on a permanent basis.”
As a result, GTM has called for the responsibility for Traveller accommodation to be taken from local authorities.
“Both local authorities have failed to meet their targets over a 15-year period and now, unfortunately, the new [Traveller Accommodation Programmes] are weak and do not inspire confidence that the targets to meet the needs of the Traveller Community will ever be delivered.
“This cannot continue and we propose that the responsibility for the provision of culturally-appropriate accommodation be taken away from the local authorities.”
The report highlights how those living in Cúl Trá in Salthill feel they are constantly under threat of eviction.
“There is huge overcrowding on the site with some bays accommodating up to 12 or 13 people on a regular basis. The original six families are in a state of limbo with the City Council.”
Severe damp and mould are identified as a major problem in the Fána Glas estate in Ballybane – with ranges in the houses failing to heat beyond the kitchen.
“The houses have no insulation with tenants forced to stuff the windows to keep out draughts.
“The tenants have no idea of the long-term plans for the development. The empty houses that were filled with rubbish have been cleared out by the Council. All of the houses around the development in the wider area were insulated except this site.”
At Beal na Srutha in Ballybane, tenants have resorted to approaching a local representative to tackle ongoing problems at the site.
“There are gaps in the windows with mould visible in the rooms. Wooden doors are rotting and a large amount of slates that have come off the roofs have not been replaced. Tenants are forced to put sheets over the windows to stop the draught coming in. Most ranges barely heat the houses, with one house having no heat source at all.
“The tenants have approached a TD, they’ve asked a doctor to write to the Council and they’ve rang the maintenance department in the Council.”
At Carrowbrowne, the temporary site is reported to have an infestation of rats, exacerbated by ongoing sewerage issues.
At the Carrowbrowne transient site, the green area at the centre has no play facilities and is too small for children to play in – with many forced to play on the road side, according to the report.
Bridget Kelly of GTM said Travellers were being forced to choose between their cultural rights and the basic need for decent accommodation – something that was “unjust, undeniable and unforgivable”.
“Traveller families are being forced to live in these disgraceful and stressful conditions for decades now because our landlords – Galway City and County Councils – continue to blatantly ignore the rights of our community to safe and healthy culturally appropriate accommodation.
“This is not a question of a lack of money, laws or policy. It is a question of institutional racism it its rawest form,” said Ms Kelly.
WHAT THE REPORT FOUND:
Beal na Srutha, Ballybane
Gaps in windows with mould visible in rooms. Wooden doors are rotting, roof slates not replaced. Tenants forced to put sheets over windows to stop draughts. One house has no heat source.
Carrowbrowne Temporary Site
Tenants dealing with infestation of rats at back of bays. Thirteen new welfare units promised but not delivered. Sewers blocked and potholes not fixed.
Carrowbrowne Transient Site
Ongoing infestation from rats, mice and flies. CCTV reinstalled without consultation with families. No play facilities for kids. Plumbing needs to be overhauled. Sewerage needs to be addressed and power lines fixed to end electricity difficulties.
Clós na Choile, Ballybane
Gullies around bays regularly overfill and cause damage to flooring. Heat escapes through gaps in windows. Toilets sinking into ground.
Cúl Trá, Salthill
Huge overcrowding with some bays accommodating 12-13 people. Families being forced into houses rather than culturally-appropriate accommodation.
Fána Glas, Ballybane
Houses have no insulation and tenants forced to stuff windows to keep out draughts. Ranges don’t heat houses beyond the kitchen.
Overcrowding has gotten worse with many bays at full capacity. Tenants told path at back of bays is preventing extension of the units.
St Nicholas Park Group Housing, Doughiska
No action to address rodent problem. Structural problems need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. No progress on Traveller specific accommodation to reduce overcrowding or hidden homeless.
St Nicholas Park Halting Site, Doughiska
No progress on Traveller specific accommodation to reduce overcrowding or hidden homeless. No progress on regular structural maintenance (insulation, drainage, damp and mould).
Salthill funfair enjoying busy tourist season
The operators of Curry’s Funpark in Salthill are reporting a busy tourist season, despite a delayed opening and ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.
While it is nowhere near the busiest season since the amusement company took over the fun fair site in Leisureland in 2014, they are delighted at how the shorter season has been going under difficult circumstances.
With a separate entrance and exit in place and customers expected to queue apart from each other, numbers have been reduced in the park. But opening hours have extended from 11am to 11pm to allow the public to avail of longer hours to enjoy the rides, explains owner Owen Curry.
“There’s a good turnout of people and a great response from our customers at being open. This year adults in their 20s are really coming in the late evenings, whereas before we would have been quiet in those last few hours.
“There’s nothing like getting out in a bit of fresh air and do something together. Without a doubt there are a lot more Irish people this year and an awful lot of them are people who haven’t ever been to Salthill which is surprising.”
After initially bringing in the equipment in February to prepare for a St Patrick’s Day opening, at one stage it looked like it would all have to be removed when lockdown was introduced, with Owen running the business from his home in Derry.
Were it not for the great support he got from the business group The Village Salthill, the park may never have opened on July 1, he says.
The opening happened after a two-day inspection, all staff undergoing courses and a lot of work implementing all the guidelines set out in a 90-page document for the operation of amusement parks.
“All our other events have been cancelled – we’d normally have equipment travelling around the country to festivals and events. We were delighted with the support and help from other businesses in Salthill. They helped with advertising and getting the word out there.”
While the park is weather dependent, he enthuses that Salthill is at least blessed to have Leisureland, the Aquarium and plenty of cafes and restaurants alongside the famous beaches and Prom.
“The staycation is definitely working for Salthill – despite the weather,” Owen remarks.
Still lit in the signature Big Wheel is the blue heart in honour of those working at the frontline during the pandemic.
“It was originally meant to be a digital screen for advertising and when we couldn’t open we decided to light a blue heart as a thank you to the front line workers until the Covid finished – we didn’t think it would be still be there but that’s the world we’re in.”
The funpark’s season is likely be extended into the Autumn.
Galway Pride Festival makes the move online
For the first time in its three decades of breaking taboos, Galway Pride will not be holding a parade.
Instead, organisers have switched to a full schedule of almost exclusively online events.
There will be just three events out of more than two dozen where people can gather for Galway Pride week, which begins today (Monday).
There will be the traditional flag-raising event in Eyre Square at midday to mark the launch with a number of speakers and those attending will be asked to social distance and wear masks.
On Wednesday evening, they will host the annual vigil in Eyre Square, while on Sunday morning, a new event will see the community on their bikes for a coffee and cake session in collaboration with the Galway Cycling Campaign.
Last year for the festival’s 30th anniversary, an estimated 2,000 people marched through the city in the parade – a cornerstone of the celebration – with thousands more lining the streets to watch.
Event chairperson Scott Green said that having even a limited number of chances to meet and come together in person safely is really important for the community.
“Undoubtedly isolation is difficult for us all and sometimes it can be taken for granted that your home is a safe and welcoming place. For too many members of our community that safety is not guaranteed.”
“The safety of our community is paramount and so for those who cannot join us in person we will bring our passion and vibrancy to you digitally until it is safe for us all to meet again.
“This will not be a stereotypical Pride but it will still have the same heart and soul put into its organisation,” Scott said.
The Community Awards 2020 will honour those who have been important role models, ran campaigns and helped out in community groups
Several panels will also take place across Pride with topics on anti-racism, mental health, workplace well-being, activism, and trans and non-binary voices.
On the entertainment side, there will be music nights, ‘movie watchalongs’, and a rainbow cake tutorial.
Scott says like many organisations, Galway Pride has had to “learn on our feet” to put together a suitable schedule.
“We had imagined a very different Pride before Covid-19 but we have gone ahead with a mostly virtually calendar of events to deliver another Pride Week because we know how important it is for our community.”
The theme for Pride 2020 is ‘Ní Neart Go Cur Le Chéile’ or ‘strength through unity’.
“It’s a sign of the times in many ways. Never before have we all had to stick together by making choices and sacrifices not just to keep ourselves safe, but to keep others safe. It’s why this year we have dedicated our ‘virtual grand marshal’ role to all healthcare care workers, for exemplifying these selfless principles.
“There are those that are increasingly trying to target the most vulnerable of our community and increasing incidents where a seedy underbelly in our society attack our community members with the utmost of bile. The LGBT+ community stands completely united, and united we will continue to progress as a society.”
All events can be accessed through the Galway Pride Festival Facebook page.
(Photo: Last year’s Galway Pride Parade).
One year wait for hearing of criminal trials in Galway
It takes up to one year for criminal trials to be heard in Galway Circuit Court, according to new figures from the Courts Service.
According to the service’s newly-published annual report for 2019, in the Galway courts area, it took an average of 9-12 months for criminal trials to go to hearing, which is unchanged from the 2018 figures.
The shortest waiting times in the country were in Carlow and Tralee, where cases are heard at the next sitting of the court, while the longest wait was in Monaghan at 18-24 months.
The wait for sentence hearings (from the trial date where a guilty plea was entered) in Galway was 3-6 months, unchanged from the previous year.
Appeals are heard following a 3-6 month wait, which is an increase from two months recorded in 2017 and 2018.
The report shows that civil cases – both trials and appeals – and Family Law cases (contested, non-contested and appeals) are generally heard at the next sitting of the Circuit Court.
Civil trials in Dundalk can take between 12-18 months to be heard, while contested and appealed Family Law cases can take 6-12 months.
Meanwhile, in district courts in Galway, domestic violence barring order and protection order applications take four weeks to be heard – the previous year, such cases were held at the next sitting of the court.
However, urgent applications relating to domestic violence in Galway are heard on the next day the district court sits.
Criminal summonses in Galway District Court can take 16 weeks to be heard (the previous year it was a 12-15 weeks wait), while charge sheets are heard at the next sitting of the court, the same as the previous year.
Summonses in Carlow can take 20-28 weeks to be heard, while in Tralee, the wait is 8-12 weeks.
In Family Law sittings in Galway, applications for maintenance or guardianship take between 4-8 weeks to be heard, compared to 6-8 weeks the previous year.
Last year, civil cases took 16 weeks to reach the District Court here, compared to an 8-12 week wait the previous year.
That compares to 12-16 weeks in Portlaoise and Letterkenny and four weeks in Roscommon and Waterford.
In the High Court, waiting times for civil and family cases stood at two months, unchanged from the previous year and the shortest in the country. The longest wait was recorded in Limerick at 25 months.