At Monday’s meeting of Waterford City Council, members couldn’t conceal their outrage following the weekend’s Traveller feud which, if repeated, could see the city earn a damaging reputation.
“From Saturday to Monday, I received 22 phonecalls, 18 texts and five emails,” said Cllr John Halligan, all related to the weekend’s violence.
“I met some people from the Ward Three area today in the Tower Hotel, traumatised after what had happened. They really believe that they’ve been abandoned by the Guards, the housing office and by the politicians…
“I spoke to one person who said to me ‘I might as well give up my home because I can’t live here anymore’.”
Added Cllr Halligan: “We’re not getting anywhere…time and time again there are people in this city who are taking the law into their own hands, people who have no regard for the settled community.”
Not mincing his words, Cllr Halligan asserted that the Traveller-sourced problems reported to the Council’s housing office greatly exceeded those generated by the settled community.
Cllr Tom Murphy called for a specialised Garda unit to be established to directly deal with the issue.
“If we don’t deal with this problem, we’re going to end up with a problem like the one they have in Moyross,” he said. “We need to get our act together and we need to check out all families thoroughly before giving them housing.”
Cllr Joe Kelly said that no-one could rightly describe the gathering of 40 people as a small group when challenging the original wording of a motion proposed by Mayor Jack Walsh in condemning the violence.
He described the group of Travellers involved in the weekend’s violence as “totally out of control,” adding that “they are sticking two fingers up at the rest of us”.
He added: “It’s about time that people started standing up to these people…this crowd are running riot.”
Cllr Pat Hayes, addressing Cllr Kelly said that Councillors, long before the Sinn Féin member was elected, had stood up and directly spoken to Travellers during previous problematic episodes.
“Decent people and good communities are being blackguarded by a substantial – and it is a substantial number,” describe the troublemakers in question as “toe rags”.
Cllr Seamus Ryan echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, but lamented that this “was an issue which keeps coming back to this Council time after time”.
Added Cllr Ryan: “After a period of relative calm, we thought we were moving away from this but now it looks like it was just the calm before the storm.”
He put it to Councillors that the Chief Superintendent at Waterford Garda Station should be invited to City Hall to comment on the situation.
Cllr Mary Roche called on Traveller support groups to condemn the weekend’s violence as strongly as the concerns they raise when speaking about the rights of the Travelling Community.
Describing the violence as the end product of “some Neanderthal honour system,” Cllr Roche said the time had come for Traveller groups “to roll their sleeves up” and become part of the solution.
Cllr Davy Walsh described those responsible for the violence as “terrorists” who “have placed the whole city under a siege mentality”.
Cllr Walsh said Waterford Gardaí face an unenviable task when dealing with such violent episodes and claimed that the force remains “ill-equipped to deal with such situations when put into the front line”.
“What went on was not unorganised,” he added. “This was well co-ordinated, well-organised and well-mobilised and it’s something that needs to be met head on. Talking about it won’t cure it.”
To the agreement of all Councillors, Mayor Walsh praised the efforts of Gardaí and City Council staff in responding to the weekend’s unprecedented events.