Response to “Kerry Today” radio programme

The statement below is issued in response to the “Kerry Today” programme broadcast on Radio Kerry on the 24th May, which featured Councillor Sam Locke and concerned issues regarding the Travelling community in Tralee, including sulky racing and recent violence.

“The work of Kerry Travellers Health & Community Development Project stems from an acknowledgement of the separate and distinct culture of the Traveller community.  From its inception in 1996 the work of the Project involves ongoing consultation with Travellers, involving the community in articulating its own needs and facilitating Travellers’ capacity to act as prime movers in their own development and participate in the strategies and initiatives that affect their way of life.  Our central aim is to create a partnership between Travellers and settled people to challenge inequalities and to bring about positive change for the Traveller community at both an individual and institutional level.

Kerry Travellers regrets that it was not in a position to participate in yesterday’s Kerry Today programme.   Following the programme we have received numerous calls, texts and emails concerning some of the assertions which Councillor Sam Locke made on the programme.

Firstly, Kerry Travellers wishes to clarify that it is mistaken for Councillor Locke to assume that those engaged in sulky racing around the town of Tralee or elsewhere are all members of the Tralee Community Horse Project.  There is an active Interagency Group in place, made up of various agencies and horse owners, charged with the responsibility of steering this Project.  The Interagency Group has already clarified that while sulky racing is one thing, it is important to realise that horses are allowed on non-urban area roads and that there is nothing illegal about driving a sulky cart on these roads.  Contrary to what Councillor Locke seemed to assert on the programme yesterday, there is no CE Scheme attached to the Horse Project and neither was €0.5 million spent on the Horse Project.  Horse owners in fact lease the land and the nine stables there from the local Council.

Secondly, Kerry Travellers wishes to clarify that the recent outbreak of violence in Tralee by a handful of Travellers has nothing to do with the recent conflict.  All sections of the community are adamant that this is the case and wish to clearly put this on the record.  As has been stated on numerous occasions in the past we, like everybody else in both the Traveller and Settled Communities throughout the county, totally deplore all violence.  As violence is a criminal matter it is within the remit of the Gardaí and the Courts, not a Health & Community Development Project like ourselves to address.  Any instance of violence negatively impacts on the majority of Traveller families in the town and throughout the county who are living peacefully.  We again would respectfully ask all sections of the media to be particularly careful about drawing assumptions, particularly when it comes to something as emotive as conflict.

Kerry Travellers set up an Interagency Group in 2009 to facilitate the Project and the Traveller Community to manage and seek way to address the conflict that erupted at that time between a minority of Traveller families in the county.  Contrary to Councillor Locke’s assertion on the programme yesterday it was never a Mediation Group and neither were Councillors involved at any time.  It was Kerry Travellers and not the Gardaí which secured funding to engage the services of an independent expert to assist us in this process.  This was made possible by some funding from Partnership Trá Lí, the Irish Traveller Movement and the Traveller Health Unit.  With the assistance of the independent expert we actively worked towards gaining the agreement of parties to the conflict on violence reduction initiatives and the creation of safer spaces for listening, discussion and problem-solving.  The Interagency Group realised from the outset that there was never going to be a quick fix and that the causes of conflict within the Traveller community are multi-faceted and required careful analysis and understanding to minimize their recurrence.

At the end of 2011 this Interagency Group made the decision to step down.  The key reasons were two-fold: insufficient community buy-in and secondly a lack of sufficient resources.  The key recommendations of the Group were also two-fold: Kerry Travellers to work with the Irish Traveller Movement in developing a clear strategy in responding to Traveller conflict and secondly to work with agencies, especially the Local Authorities and an Garda Síochána, to strengthen their relationships and communication with the Traveller Community.  To strengthen Kerry Travellers’ capacity to implement these recommendations sufficiently and its core objectives we have been engaged in a process of restructuring by, among other methods, reconfiguring the roles of current employees to be in a position to employ a second Community Development Worker in the county. The significant cut in the Project’s core funding coupled with the loss of a Community Development Worker earlier in the year due to funding hampered progress in relation to building Travellers’ capacity to resolve conflict in non-violent and collaborative ways, and on countless other issues which we are addressing on a daily basis in partnership with the Traveller Community and countless agencies. “

Owen McCarthy,
Kerry Travellers Health & Community Development Project.

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