IT’S HARD TO visit children living in a dump. But that’s what I have to do when I visit friends of mine at Carrowbrowne site, just outside Galway City.
I have to remind myself that I’m not in some slum in Africa or Asia – places that we sometimes see on the telly and think it’s awful that people have to live like that. I have to remind myself that this is Ireland – one of the world’s wealthiest countries (we were ranked 7th globally this year by Global Finance Magazine).
This is Galway, where I live. This is 2017 – more than 20 years after the Traveller Taskforce report was published with all its wonderful and hope-filled recommendations.
This site, sitting beside the city’s sprawling landfill, is the last site ever built in Galway. As a mother living here with her young children said to me: “this is an example of what they really think of Travellers. That of all the land that they had to give, they gave us the place beside the dump.”
Her daily routine is horrendous. She has to protect her children from rats, from picking up vermin droppings, from playing in stagnant and contaminated water, from touching sewerage, from the choking effects of the dust and dirt from the trucks that trundle by every hour with their loads of rubbish.
She has to get them to school, washed, fed, and ready to learn, bringing them the 6km there and back because her home is in a wasteland, far enough from the city to ensure that the gentle citizens don’t have to be disturbed by the reality of the discrimination that her little family is enduring every day.
This young, beautiful mother is a proud member of the Traveller community in Galway like me. She wants her children to know that they are proud members of our community too. That they can have dreams and ambitions. That they can have a future. That they can start that future living in safe and healthy accommodation that reflects our culture and our long traditions of home, family and nomadism.
There’s nowhere else for us to live
Trapped beside a dump doesn’t quite do it. Neither does living in emergency accommodation or hotel rooms. Last summer, more of my friends and family were forced to leave their homes and relations overnight because Galway City Council said Cultrá Halting Site in Salthill was overcrowded.
Of course it was overcrowded, there is nowhere else to live for us in the county or across the country. Nearly one quarter of our community throughout the country (7,000 people) are living in overcrowded or shared sites, bays or houses, according to the Irish Traveller Movement. It’s a fact of life when adequate accommodation has not been provided for 20 years or more.
Our community has gone through very hard times. We know what it feels like to be seen as outsiders, in our own city, in our towns, our villages. Right up to the highest levels of local and national government, those with a duty to recognise, protect and promote our human rights have failed to honour Travellers’ basic right to a home that is culturally appropriate.
We are blamed for their failures
We are blamed for their failures. We are shunned for their broken promises. For many of us it is becoming harder to keep our hopes alive.
But we are not broken. This week in Galway, Travellers are saying enough is enough. We launched a new campaign #TravellerHomesNow to ensure that our right to accommodation is heard and delivered on by Galway City and County Council, for once and for all.
#TravellerHomesNow, is a resilient response to the nearly two decades years of broken promises, failed targets and tokenistic interaction with the Traveller community that has defined local authority Traveller accommodation planning here in Galway, and indeed across all local authorities.
There is a better way to live as equal citizens. That way starts with the establishment of an independent Traveller accommodation agency that is removed from local politics with its votes, nods, winks, discrimination and lies.
And there definitely has to be a better place to live than beside a dump.
Joanna Corcoran is a member of the Traveller community in Galway. She attended the Traveller Accommodation Enquiry: Real Stories in Galway earlier this week.