The Labour TD for Dublin North-Central made the remark amid an ongoing standoff between residents of Rockville Drive in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.
Since Wednesday, a group of people living in the area has blocked workers from accessing a site where the local authority planned to build emergency accommodation for families affected by last Saturday’s tragedy at a State-backed halting site, which saw 10 people — including six-month-old Mary Connors — burn to death.
While the council has said the accommodation will only be used for six months, residents have blocked its development, saying they have not been consulted and citing anti-social behaviour concerns.
On RTÉ’s The Week in Politics, Mr Ó Ríordáin said that while he understood residents’ concerns, their approach is like the racist era of “Alabama in the 1950s”.
“Irish society — we voted through an equality referendum in May, and then in October we have scenes which honestly remind me of Alabama in the 1950s. I understand residents have concerns, but the manner they went about it is quite appalling,” he said.
There is a traumatised community who’ve just seen 10 members of their community, and two entire families, burned to death.”
Mr Ó Ríordáin said legislation confirming Travellers as a distinct ethnic group is to be put forward “in a very short space of time”.
On the same programme, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said she is “really disturbed” by the standoff, which she said is “much bigger than this specific case”.
Housing Minister Paudie Coffey said he expects local authorities to step up to their responsibilities when it comes to providing Traveller accommodation.
However, while saying he will “be monitoring closely the progress” and “we expect them to draw down funding” available, Government will not impose “diktats” to make councils comply. The first funerals of the 10 people who died in the Carrickmines blaze will take place tomorrow, after their bodies were identified over the weekend.