'Shocking,' uproar over councillor's claims about Travellers and crime in Carlow

Members discussed removing a provision in the...

Darren Hassett

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Darren Hassett

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Carlow Carlow Carlow

Cllr Arthur McDonald

There was uproar at this month's full meeting of Carlow County Council on Monday over a councillor's claims about Travellers and crime in Carlow.

Cllr Arthur McDonald remarked at the meeting that the "crime rate goes up by about 30%" around the time of the Borris Fair every year in Carlow. 

In response, Cllr Adrienne Wallace said: "That needs to be withdrawn," while Cllr Will Paton said the remarks were "shocking" and he asked for evidence from Cllr McDonald. 

"That's a fact," Cllr McDonald said in response to members' concerns. 

Councillors were discussing Travellers in Carlow and the Traveller Accommodation Programme 2019-2024. 

A debate erupted when Cllr Ken Murnane proposed an amendment to the programme which would remove the line: "Carlow County Council will endeavour to meet [social housing needs] over the period of the programme.

"The policy of offering one in ten vacancies to Traveller families will continue where appropriate."

Cllr Murnane said the provision for "one in ten" was "preferential treatment" towards Travellers and "no group should get preferential treatment". 

Cllr Wallace said that was a "ridiculous comment" and thought the provision should be higher given the "impoverished state of some Traveller accommodation". 

Cllr McDonald initially supported the amendment and claimed that crime rises when Travellers come to Carlow for the annual Borris Fair.

Cllr Andy Gladney said there was "bad and good in every society" and settled people have their own issues and that "people knocking Travellers is not really on".

Cllr Wallace called on Cllr McDonald to withdraw the statement that "the Travelling community is more prone to crime as he has no data to back up that claim".

Cllr McDonald first muttered that Cllr Wallace was "fairly controversial" herself and then said: "No. Facts are facts."

Cllr Michael Doran asked if it was "prudent" to take out the "one in ten" provision to which Cllr Murnane said: "If you do put it in it will come back to haunt you."

He added that if such a provision were made for Travellers, the Council could be expected to do it for the "Polish community and black community" in Carlow.

Cllr Paton said: "If we take this out, we will be pilloried as being against members of the Travelling community. If you take out the 10% I will disassociate myself from it. We will be wide open to charges of discrimination."

Cllr Murnane said that "no one was being discriminated against, we're making it a level playing field".

Cathaoirleach of Carlow County Council, Cllr John Pender, decided on a roll call vote 

Cllr McDonald then wished to clarify his earlier remarks about Traveller crime and said there was a group of Travellers going around the country and "these people have no interest in the law".

The remarks were met by a chorus of boos from Cllr Paton while Cllr Wallace took issue with his use of the words "these people".

Meanwhile, the Council's executive told members that the "one in ten" is a commonly held policy. 

The chief executive of Carlow, Kathleen Holohan said "nothing was written in stone" and that there was no legal requirement for the "one in ten" provision but it was something the members could do. 

She added that the provision "does not necessarily mean that 10% of every [housing] scheme" goes to Travellers due to the complexities of housing needs and requirements. 

A roll call vote was taken on the adoption of the plan with Cllr Murnane's amendment to remove the "one in ten" provision. 

Here's how members voted (*FOR is to remove the "one in ten" provision AGAINST is to keep it in)

Cllr Fergal Browne FOR

Cllr John Cassin AGAINST

Cllr Andrea Dalton AGAINST

Cllr Michael Doran FOR

Cllr Andy Gladney AGAINST

Cllr Tommy Kinsella FOR

Cllr Arthur McDonald AGAINST 

Cllr John McDonald FOR 

Cllr Ken Murnane FOR

Cllr Charlie Murphy FOR

Cllr John Murphy FOR

Cllr Brian O'Donoghue ABSENT

Cllr Tom O'Neill FOR 

Cllr Will Paton AGAINST 

Cllr Fintan Phelan AGAINST 

Cllr John Pender AGAINST 

Cllr Adrienne Wallace AGAINST 

Cllr Willie Quinn ABSENT

The roll call vote finished eight votes for the amendement and eight votes against it which left the deciding vote to Cathaoirleach, Cllr Pender, who decided to keep the "one in the ten" provision in the strategy. 

His decision was followed by a round of applause from some councillors. 

Members then voted on the Traveller Accommodation Programme 2019-2024 which was passed without Cllr Murnane's amendement. 

In a statement after the meeting, Cllr Wallace said the claims by Cllr McDonald were "not grounded in fact rather it revealed his prejudice towards the Traveller community".

She added: "The mask has dropped revealing the ugly face of bias and prejudice towards Carlow natives just because they are from the Traveller community."

The heated exchanges on the proposed amendment led to Cllr McDonald telling Cllr Wallace to "shut your mouth" during the debate. 

Cllr Wallace said on Tuesday that the comments reveal "an embedded sexism within Fianna Fáil – numerous councillors entered the debate but I was the only person who was spoken to in such a derogatory manner".

"That language should not be tolerated in any work place. Fianna Fáil consistently struggle to meet gender quotas and now I’m not surprised as to why," she added.