Out of site, Out of mind -Travellers in Ballymun
Report from Travellers' Meeting in Ballymun
The Traveller man is saying "We are people just like you".
St. Margaret’s Park is a 30 bay permanent halting site sandwiched between 2 busy roads on the outskirts of Ballymun. There are currently 63 families living in a space originally designed to accommodate 30 families. There is no playground and no safe pedestrian access to and from the site. Families on the site have been living without electricity on and off for three past 5 months.
Travellers and workers, angry at the situation, called a meeting on Wed March the 22nd. Councillors and Dublin City Council (DCC) officials were invited to explain to a meeting on site how they proposed to resolve the situation. Earlier on in the day a group of Slovakians from the LEAP Project (Legal Education For All), along with members of the Irish Traveller Movement Accommodation Working Group visited the site.
There are a myriad of problems facing residents in St. Margaret’s in terms of the overall standard of accommodation, the most immediate one at present being the lack of electricity.
In February nine bays on the site were left without electricity for 10 days; a bay may be home to up to three families. This is nothing new. In fact since November 2005 the electricity has been on and off every other day for the majority of people living in St. Margaret’s.
In response Dublin City Council sends out an electrician to replace the fuses. Often the electrician has quite literally driven off down the road when the fuse has blown again, leaving another night of darkness and cold looming. On one particular occasion he made it quite obvious that he wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before the electricity cut off again.
That 15 families were left without electricity for 10 days came about on foot of a directive issued by DCC in mid February, stating that the electricity supply would no longer be restored to any of the bays without electricity. The initial reason stated for this decision was that ‘we (DCC) are spending too much money on the electrician coming out all the time’. This was backed up with a brief but emphatic financial update regarding the cost of replacing fuses, not to mention the electrician’s fee.
When queried about the health and safety concerns, the reason for the decision, not to replace fuses, changed. Instead it very quickly became firmly grounded in none other than concern about the fire hazard. So much concern that as a ‘good-will gesture’ (following the tragedy in Clondalkin) two battery-operated smoke alarms were fitted in every bay. So much concern that somewhere in the region of 15 families were left without electricity for ten days during a particularly cold spell creating a situation whereby some families were forced to hook up to their neighbour’s supply.
DCC lay the blame entirely at the hands of the Travellers, the majority of whom they claim are ‘illegally tapping’ the electricity supply and not paying for their electricity. The fact remains that the halting site is massively overcrowded and as a result quite simply cannot cope with the demand put on the supply of electricity. This is borne out by the fact that the same problem arises every winter, as electricity consumption increases during the winter months. However, according to DCC there is ‘no overcrowding situation”, but lots of ‘illegals’.
The fact of the matter remains that St. Margaret’s Park is home to over 260 people, almost half of whom are under the age of twelve. The families on the site who are sharing bays with the legal tenants are all extended family members. There is nowhere else for these families to go. That this is the case is as a direct consequence of the failure of DCC to fulfil its responsibility of providing suitable and culturally appropriate accommodation for Traveller are ins as laid out in the Traveller Accommodation Programmes (TAPs) which arose from the Traveller Accommodation Act, 1998
The overcrowding situation in St. Margaret’s is also a result of poor management on the part of DCC, who are fully aware of the problems on the site, but fail to take action.
The head of the Traveller Housing Section in DCC, Kieran Cunningham attended the meeting in St. Margaret’s, but failed to offer anything more than a vague reference to a future development plan for the site.
The day after the meeting took place residents were facing another cold night as they were informed by DCC that the electrician wouldn’t be able to come to the site until the following morning.
Report by Nina
Photos by sovietpop
Some were forced to spend 400 euros on generators but a 10 euro bottle of petrol only lasts 8 hours.
There are 109 children under the age of 12 living on the site.
Kieran Cunningham, Head of the Travellers Accomodation section of Dublin City Council.
Living without electricity causes enormous stress