Traveller rights groups have hit out at “hateful, vile, racist comments” which have been made following confirmation of Covid-19 outbreaks in halting sites in Cork city.
They appealed for “support and respect” and urged politicians to stop using the public health crisis to stir up hatred towards their community.
They also pleaded with all responsible media outlets to limit the spread of hate and racist comments, and to respect the privacy of families who have been affected by the outbreak.
A spokesperson for the Traveller community said if anything is to be learned from this health crisis, it’s that people get sicker faster and in greater numbers when they are left to live in overcrowded and inhumane conditions.
The groups issued a statement last night after thereported that members of the Travelling community living on one of the country’s most over-crowded halting sites were being offered off-site emergency accommodation to facilitate self-isolation following an outbreak of the virus.
It is not clear how many residents of the Ballyvolane halting site on Spring Lane have tested positive for the virus but a range of agencies were providing support for up to 60 people in recent days.
Independent Cllr Ken O’Flynn criticised a decision to offer council homes to some of those involved so they can self-isolate.
He said the city council should keep those homes for people on the city’s housing waiting list, and suggested that space should be found at Collins Barracks instead.
The Traveller rights groups said while the outbreak has caused extreme hardship and stress for those affected, the reaction from some members of the public had made it worse.
“Cork Traveller Women’s Network and Cork Traveller Visibility Group are on the ground and staff are doing their utmost to contain the spread of the virus and to provide support to very vulnerable people during this public health crisis,” they said.
One representative, who did not want to be named for fear of being targeted online, said there isn’t a family in the country which hasn’t been affected by the virus in one way or another.
“Can you imagine then what it is like trying to cope with this virus by living in inhumane living conditions, including not having running water and sanitation facilities,” they said.
“On top of that, the stress of reading hateful, vile, racist comments online and in the media is causing levels of distress we have not seen before.”
The groups acknowledged the efforts made by local agencies to respond to the outbreak but they said the distress caused by the current crisis has been exacerbated by the neglect of the Traveller families living in the various halting sites for so long.
“If we learn anything from this crisis it’s that when people are left to live in overcrowded inhumane conditions they get sicker faster and in greater numbers,” they said.
“At the very least, Cork City Council needs to commit now to making sure families, including babies and older people, have access to the most basic of facilities for the duration of this pandemic,” they said.
The council is one of the agencies providing supports to those affected.