A Traveller advocacy group has lodged a formal complaint with Cork City Council about a councillor’s comments about members of the Traveller community.
The Traveller Equality and Justice Project (TEJP) at the Centre for Criminal Justice and Human Rights at UCC lodged its complaint with the council’s ethics registrar about what it described as Cllr Ken O’Flynn’s “public statements and patterns of behaviour towards residents of the Spring Lane halting site” and Travellers in Cork in general.
It comes as the city this week formally marks Traveller Pride week, with the raising of the Traveller Pride flag over City Hall.
The TEJP has declined to comment on the specific details of its complaint, or to confirm when or where the complaints were made, reported or broadcast. The council has also declined to comment.
Thehas been unable to establish exactly why the ethics registrar route was chosen for this complaint given that a local authority’s ethics registrar usually oversees the systems of annual declaration by elected members and relevant employees, and the disclosure requirements in circumstances where beneficial interests may arise during certain discussions or votes.
It’s not clear if the complaint will lead to a formal process of enquiry by the local authority, and if so, how such an enquiry might be conducted or who would lead it, or what sanctions, if any, Mr O’Flynn might face if the complaint is upheld.
Cllr O’Flynn, an independent councillor in the city’s north east ward, said he is aware that a letter of complaint has been sent to the council and he described the move as “another effort to silence any critics” of the Traveller community.
He said: "This movement, and those like them, have one thing on their mind - to silence their critics and anybody who has an opinion which differs from theirs.
“Whenever I have spoken on the Spring Lane issue, I’ve only listed facts.
“This complaint won’t stop me from doing my job - and that is to represent everybody, including those who live on this halting site.”
He said his stance on the Spring Lane issue has led to threatening and abusive phone calls, social media messages and letters, and one phone call which included a death threat.
Cllr O’Flynn said:
Conditions in the Spring Lane halting site were the focus of a scathing report earlier this year from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO).
Following three years of investigative work, the OCO found that the council failed to consider the best interests of children living on the site by allowing them to live in filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, and unsafe living conditions.
Mr O’Flynn has been a vocal critic of those engaged in illegal dumping on land next to the halting site, and of some Traveller advocacy groups which he claims have not been doing enough to help resolve the Spring Lane situation. Traveller advocates have accused Mr O’Flynn of stoking anti-Traveller sentiment.
In July, therevealed that residents of the halting site had taken the unprecedented step of writing to members of Cork’s Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC) calling for Mr O’Flynn’s removal from the committee.
They said he has taken “every opportunity to run the residents of Spring Lane down, especially in the media”, and blocked improvements to and around the halting site.
They also accused him of spreading “deliberate, hurtful, false information” during a radio interview, and of using “almost every imaginable anti-Traveller stereotype”, and trying to “turn the people of Cork against us”.
TEJP is a collaborative project between UCC’s law school and the Free Legal Advice Centre and it has led legal training workshops for Cork-based Traveller community organisations.
It was awarded a Rights Equality and Citizenship Award by the European Commission in 2020.