West of Ireland group protesting council decision to provide 17 Middle-Eastern refugee families with homes.iStock.

A group of Travellers from Castlebar, Co. Mayo is protesting the decision of their local county council to provide housing for refugee families from Syria. In total, 17 families from the war-torn Middle Eastern country are set to be rehoused in the county between now and the end of the year. While supporters point to the danger the families have left behind, many in the Traveller community are unhappy that the new arrivals are getting priority on the local housing list. Matters came to a head on Tuesday evening when one family was taken to a home on the Cois Abhainn estate where they were confronted by one local resident with family on the housing waiting list.

Police were summoned to what was termed a “potentially boisterous situation” and the family was given alternative accommodation in town, “for now.” Three other Syrian families have also arrived in the town this week without any problems. 

All of which infuriated local man Jason McDonagh, who on Wednesday decided to protest the county council’s actions outside its Castlebar headquarter. He was joined by his wife Kathleen and their children where he told the Irish Times that the family had been on the council’s waiting list for years. In the meantime they’d been living in caravans and were upset that the council had prioritized the refugees over them.

Archive photos of Irish Traveller children playing on their halting site.

Archive photos of Irish Traveller children playing on their halting site.

Their daughter-in-law Teresa was similarly furious and said her request for a house had been rejected because a “quota” for Traveller families on the estate had already been reached.

Brandishing signs that said, “WE WANT OUR RIGHTS, WE ARE IRISH CITIZENS,” “WE ARE FROM CASTLEBAR” and “WE ARE LIVING IN POVERTY,” the group numbered eight adults and two young children.

Afterwards they delivered a letter to Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose local constituency office is based in Castlebar, but John Condon of Mayo County Council predicted their efforts would prove futile. “Holding protests of this nature is not helping their case,” he told the Irish Times. Before adding that the council would do everything they could to help the refugees and were, “delighted to be in a position to do so.”