Ireland's 'Traditional' Racism Remains

An interview with Mrs Ellen Mongan, a Traveller with seven children


It's 2004 and close to 1,000 Traveller famlies are still living on the roadside without access to basic facilities-water, sanitation or electricity. Official accommodation is often overcrowded, poorly maintained and situated in wholly unsuitable locations, beside rubbish dumps or dangerous, busy main roads with no pedestrian access.

In 2002, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was enacted which changed trespass from a civil to a criminal offence. Camping on private or public ground can result in a 3,000 euro fine, confiscation of property and/or one month in jail. Between 2002 and 2003, 88 evictions of Travellers took place under this legislation. Travellers are being criminalised because of the consistent failure of the Government to provide both permanent and transient halting sites.

Mrs. Ellen Mongan, a Traveller woman with seven children, lives in St Margaret's Halting Site, Ballymun.

How long have you been living here on this site?

I'm back on this site now about twelve months. I'd been living here originally and then we moved and were living on the side of the road for a couple of years with no facilities or anything. We were down around the country and then out around Swords.

How many families are there altogether on this site?

There's about 62 or 63 families. One side of the site is more packed than where we are. The site was only designed for one family per bay-there's only one toilet and one shower unit. There's 30 bays and 62 families. This is because of the new (Anti) Trespass Law people are on top of one another. The (Anti) Trespassing Law affected me you see - that's why I had to move back in here.

That was out in Swords at the back of the airport. There's an official site and an unofficial site. There was a couple of other families there. Aer Rianta owned the land and the Council only rented that land. Now there's talk of building a new runway and Aer Rianta threatened me. I wasn't served with notice to go but I would have been because I was illegally parked.

We were all told we would be evicted and I didn't wait to be evicted because they tow your caravan to the pound and you'd have to pay for every day that it'd be there. It was very bad that time. There were no toilets. There was no water. There was no electricity or anything out there. That was where my daughter Lena got knocked down and her leg was broken-the traffic is very bad out by the airport. That was when my sister took me in-she said she'd let me in here to double up with her.

What are the facilities like here on the site?

Each bay has its own shower unit and toilet and a little utility room. Each family wouldn't have that - you could have more than 12 or 13 people using the one toilet and shower. I think the site is overcrowded now because of that law.

When you're on a site like this the Council say you are being accommodated but you're not - it's the same as you letting me stay with you for a while.

Do you think that Travellers in Ballymun are going to benefit from the regeneration of Ballymun?

I think it'll change things - you don't know for the better of for the worse. Everyone on the site won't get a house. Only 20 of the 60 families are going to get houses.

Have you as a Traveller woman suffered racism and discrimination in Ireland?

Y'know when you go into shops you can hear the security bell being pressed. Then they get the people to walk after you. I remember one time a good few years ago we were staying down in Cavan. I went into a shop to buy two dresses for the little ones. I was standing at the checkout when the manager came running and just literally dragged me out of the shop. "Don't you know you're barred from this shop?" he said to me. I was never in the shop before in my life. I was heavily pregnant at the time. It was very embarrassing, frightening as well.

It's the same ringing up and booking for weddings. If they know you're a Traveller they won't let you. Discrimination is worse now than when I was younger. Maybe that's because people are more aware of it now, I don't know. I remember years ago going to school in the country and I was treated the same as everyone else, but when I had my children they were marginalised in school. They used to have a Traveller's class that went slower than the mainstream class.

Did you travel much when you were growing up?

Only after I got married. I'd been living in a house since I was about 12. I was the oldest of 18 children and before my father and mother settled down I remember living in the tents and the wagons.

Do you think the travelling days are over?

Oh yeah-they are. They're gone. Too much hassle with the Law. Anyone with children are trying to get them a bit of education by staying in the one place. It seems to be the only way forward now. Probably in time to come the younger people won't know what it was like to travel except to go on a holiday. It's sad. Their culture is being taken away from them.

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This edition is No81 published in May 2004

Cover of WS81