There are renewed fears of a festive season marred by hostilities amongst members of the local Travelling community, following the violent death of a man in Tipperary town last weekend and a vicious attack on a man with a hatchet in a Waterford chip shop the previous week.
Hopes that a peace deal brokered last February could be sustained evaporated last Friday, when father-of-four Willie Stokes was stabbed a number of times in front of his young son in Tipperary. Though not personally involved in the bitter Traveller feud which dominated the headlines for much of last year, Mr Stokes is understood to have been related to some of those who were and is may have been targeted to ‘get at’ the opposing faction.
This assault, involving at least two men – one of whom was armed with a slash-hook type weapon – is believed to have been in retaliation for a violent attack involving a hatchet on a man in Brennan’s Chipper, on Waterford’s Paddy Brown’s Road, the week before.
Mr Stokes, a 47-year-old horse dealer, was stabbed while sitting in his van outside a local supermarket with his 12-year-old son at about 6pm last Friday. Mr Stokes’s son was not physically injured in the attack.
The deceased managed to escape his attackers and tried to drive off after doing a U-turn, but slumped down in the driver’s seat after massive blood loss and crashed his van on the town’s Bridge Street. He was pronounced dead shortly afterwards. Described by gardai in Tipperary as a ‘gentleman’, Mr Stokes had lived in the town for the past twenty years and had never come to the attention of gardaí before. The Tipperary Rural Traveller Project has said it is “disgusted” by Mr Stokes’s death.
Five people – three women and two men – were arrested in Waterford at the weekend in connection with the death of Mr Stokes. A man in his 20s who was arrested on Saturday was later released without charge, as was a woman on Sunday. A man and woman remained in custody at Cahir Garda Station and another woman at Clonmel Garda Station at time of going to press. All three are being held under Section 30 of the Offences Against The State Act and can be held for up to 72 hours. Gardai were also awaiting the results of a post-mortem examination on Mr Stokes.
The Traveller feud in Waterford ignited in July 2008 when a bare-knuckle fight between rival families escalated and resulted over 140 incidents, including further assaults, arson, criminal damage and car rammings along with numerous shootings. More than 80 arrests were made by gardaí.
A number of people were injured in the shootings, including a teenage boy and girl, while three horses had to be put down after being mutilated in two attacks where their legs were almost totally severed by swords. A dozen Waterford city council houses were damaged in petrol bombings and other attacks, causing hundreds of thousands of euro of damage, while €400,000 was spent on overtime to cover a heavy police prescense in certain parts of the city.
A peace deal was brokered with the help of an American gang-violence mediator in February. However, there are fears Mr Stokes’s murder, the first killing linked to the feud, will lead to renewed violence and both local and national gardai are said to be drawing up plans to counter the feud if it does escalate over the festive season.