Minister Doherty Visits Tullamore
‘If Co. Offaly is home to about 1,000 Travellers why are there only 3 halting sites for the whole county?’ asked Minister Regina Doherty on a recent visit to Tullamore. The Minister for Employment Affairs & Social Protection Regina Doherty visited Offaly Traveller Movement last Monday 2nd of January 2018 and was appalled to hear that there are a total of 105 people, 46 adults and 59 children living without running water, electricity, toilets, bin collection or any facilities. Only about 30 families in Co. Offaly live in serviced halting sites.
Staff from Offaly Traveller Movement welcomed the Minister and told her that this was an important and meaningful visit for them. Ms Doherty listened as staff discussed some of the key concerns for Travellers including: youth, education, unemployment, career progression for Travellers in jobs, discrimination and poor health and life expectancy of Travellers.
Minister Doherty’s visit was much understated. She wanted an opportunity to go out quietly and visit Traveller families in their own space and see first-hand what the conditions were like on the ground. She spoke with women and children living in the unofficial site, Kilcruttin, Tullamore and met some of the beautiful children who are now growing up in very challenging circumstances. One mother who has 6 children with another one on the way told Minister Doherty that she is on the L. A. housing waiting list for 6 years now.
Minister Doherty was welcomed into the home of another family who have lived on this site for over 21 years. She learned of the heart breaking experience and difficulty of taking care of sick and elderly people after they are discharged from hospital and when there are brought home to live in a trailer with no water or no services. Speaking about her deceased mother one Traveller girl told the Minister ‘They gave her a nebuliser but we had no real way of using it as we have no electricity and couldn’t keep it turned on for long’.
Ms. Doherty then went next door to the official serviced halting site in Tullamore where there are 16 families living. She visited the onsite brightly coloured crèche and got an opportunity to speak with the play school leader who told the Minister that she is expecting a waiting list for the facility in September. Minister Doherty also learned that many of the official site residents have extended families who have nowhere to stay. The bays on the official site were built over 25 years but there was no succession planning and no provision for halting sites for families as they grow up and go on to have children of their own.
On her way back to Dublin the Minister stopped off and welcomed an opportunity to talk to the families who are living on the road side without services near the bypass in Tullamore. One woman told the Minister that her family had been moved on by the authorities 6 times during the last month and that this results in extreme stress and hardship including difficultly getting kids to school and keeping health appointments.
A member of staff at Offaly Traveller Movement said it was ‘just brilliant to have Regina Doherty visit, she was a breath of fresh air, she sat down on the grass to talk to the Traveller children which is a great indication that she was genuinely interested in what Travellers on the ground have to say’. During her visit Minister Doherty was very empathetic, she expressed grave concern and was very aware of the basic human rights issues at the heart of these families living arrangements. She requested follow on support documentation and staff at OTM invited the Minister to return to Offaly Traveller Movement anytime.