Cúl Trá halting site was built around 21 years ago in Lower Salthill in order to address the need for traveller accommodation in Galway city. The site was intended to accommodate six families, but as the years progressed the children who lived on the site grew up and began their own families on the same site. Those living on the site now are part of the community in Lower Salthill, the children attend the local school, the site is the only home they’ve ever known.
Just a couple of weeks ago, ten of the families living on the site received eviction letters from Galway City Council. No alternative accommodation was offered or other options discussed. The families, including over 20 children, were simply told that they would have to leave or action would be taken.
In protest at the eviction notices, the families of Cúl Trá and the Galway Traveller Movement held a demonstration last week. There, I spoke to Martina Delaney who has lived on the Cúl Trá halting site for twenty years and whose children, nieces and nephews now face eviction. She said that “the council doesn’t seem to care what happens to people once they leave as long as they get them out the gate.” One of her niece’s children suffers from cystic fibrosis, and still faces the threat of being pushed onto the street with nowhere to go.
The Council hasn’t built any new traveller accommodation in twenty years and is clearly failing to meet its commitments set out in the 2014-2018 Traveller Accommodation Programme (and that programme, by any standards, sets the bar low). So, of course the site is overcrowded and things need to change, but the families completely understand this. They know that the halting site is now over capacity and that means that some of them will have to move elsewhere. The issue is that they have been given no guidance or options on what to do next and no time in which to make arrangements.
What’s happening now is that people who grew up with their family around them, who went to school locally and are now raising their children with their support networks around them are being told that they have to get out. This is why there were so many people out supporting the families at the protest last week. One of the local residents who has lived beside the halting site since it was built described the children who live there as the ‘life and soul’ of the area and said that the Cúl Trá model shows that halting sites can and do work.
Clearly, the Council has known for years that overcrowding would become an issue at the Cúl Trá halting site. It’s completely understandable that those who grew up on the site would remain there with their families and neighbours once they started their own families, especially considering the lack of any other appropriate accommodation. Why would anyone voluntarily leave the only home they’ve ever known when there is nothing waiting for them and no support?
The ongoing and deepening housing crisis means that public authorities are facing difficult decisions with limited resources. Still, it’s hard to imagine any other community being treated in the way that the Cúl Trá families are being treated. The way that Galway City Councillors have spoken about this at meetings and the total lack of respect being shown to these families show that discrimination is a massive ongoing problem in their community.
In March this year, Irish Travellers were granted ethnic minority status after years of campaigning. This should have marked the beginning of a new era for Traveller rights where they can be confident of being listened to and respected. This saga shows the depressing reality of how far there is to go before the Traveller community doesn’t have to face this sort of discrimination any longer. In the meantime, it’s important that people stand with the Cúl Trá families to show that these actions are not acceptable and that the families’ needs must be addressed properly and appropriately.