Government to send out firm message: we will not give in to groups seeking welfareHenry McDonald, Ireland editor
Sunday July 22, 2007
ObserverThe Irish government is determined to deport a group of Roma Gypsies who are living on roundabouts and grassy areas on Ireland's busiest motorway, The Observer has learnt.
Plans have been drawn up to allow the gardai to evict, forcibly if necessary, the 32 adults and 22 children from one extended family who have set up camps on the M50 between Dublin airport and Ballymun. The Rostas family will be put on a plane back to their native Romania within the next fortnight, said Irish government sources.
The planned deportation has the full support of the Romanian government, which has already offered the Rostas family free flights out of Ireland.
'We cannot tolerate this situation,' one highly placed government official said yesterday. 'If the government was to give in to this group many, many more would come seeking social welfare. The message has to be sent out, and that is why there is a real determination to end this,' he said.
Conditions at the two sites, one on a roundabout on the M50 within sight of Dublin airport's runway, the other just before a slip road, have deteriorated over the past few days. The scene resembles the slums of an Asian city rather than 21st-century Ireland.
The air around the two camps reeks of human excreta and rotting food; children as young as two play in mud and filth; grass verges to either side of the families' makeshift shelters are covered in rubbish and colonies of tiny flies attach themselves to anything that moves. The tents they sleep in have been flooded during the recent heavy rains. A number of parents have even put down discarded posters from the last general election; one child could be seen last Thursday having a nap on top of a picture of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Last Thursday two children from the camps were taken to Temple Street Hospital in central Dublin following an outbreak of severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Non-governmental organisations campaigning for the Roma to stay in the state have claimed that there is a danger of disease breaking out.
Despite the overpowering stench and the grim surroundings, the Roma Gypsies insist that they prefer their new precarious existence in the middle of an Irish motorway to life back in Romania. Simona Rostas, a 29-year-old mother of two, said that back in Romania her family had to live on the edge of a massive civic rubbish tip.
'We don't want to go back to Romania any more,' she said while clutching a red bucket filled with grey-coloured, half-cooked ribs. 'We just want the Irish government to give us a chance. Let us get a house and let our men work.'
As she spoke, motorists slowing down as they approached the slip road towards Ballymun hurled insults in her direction. A taxi driver behind the wheel of a People Carrier rolled down his window as a group of begging Roma children approached his vehicle and gave a two-fingered sign to them. Back inside the first encampment, Danila Rostas, 42, denied that he and the other adults were putting their children's lives at risk by allowing them to beg on the M50. 'There is no other way for us to live now but to beg. We can't work, we can't get social welfare, and so we have to beg to feed ourselves and our children,' he said.
When asked about the stream of abuse directed at them, he replied: 'Most Irish are good people. They are fair people. If they let us work, we can show we are good people too. All we want to do is stay and work, maybe in agriculture.'
So why do they choose to live in the middle of a motorway as opposed to somewhere less exposed and less dangerous? Rostas, who has three children aged 23, 20 and eight, pointed to a giant motorway light above the camp. The Rostas family decided to camp on this spot because they could get free illumination from the lights at night, he said.
Apart from the threat of an epidemic breaking out in the camps, adults and children risk their lives on a daily basis crossing what is regarded as the busiest arterial route in urban Ireland. Small children could be seen begging on the slip road and at the roundabout as they tried to flag down cars, vans and buses. The AA in Ireland has warned that there is going to be a serious accident on this section of the M50 if the Roma children continue to beg on the motorway.
An alliance of concerned groups, including the Pavee Point Travellers Centre and the Irish Association of Social Workers, have called on the republic's Department of Health and Children to provide emergency accommodation for the Roma family. George Dancia, a member of the Roma community who has lived in Ireland for eight years and translates for the family, pointed out that they are, in fact, EU citizens and thus have civic rights in Ireland.
'I wouldn't blame them for not going back to Romania myself. These people I can tell you genuinely want to work in agriculture, because that is what they know best. I sincerely believe they want to settle down, pay their taxes and live in a house like the rest of us,' he said.
Neither the Department of Health nor the Department of Justice, however, showed any sign of meeting the NGOs' demands this weekend. The government's hardline stance is not only backed by the Romanian embassy in Dublin but also, it appeared, by the majority of people living close to the two sites. A quarter of a mile from the roundabout at Ballymun there is a near universal hostility towards the Roma. Drinkers enjoying a smoke break outside The Towers pub beside the shabby Ballymun Shopping Centre demanded in unison that the government deport them immediately.
Patricia Brennan referred to the presence of Roma children on the motorway just to the north: 'My husband drives an articulated lorry and he told me that recently very young kids were even able to climb right up to his window when he slowed down so they could beg from him. I really feel sorry for them, but it just isn't safe that they are up there. Their parents should be ashamed of themselves.'
Her neighbour, Terry O'Neill, was even less sympathetic to the plight of the Roma on the roundabout: 'Get them on planes back to their own country. I have a pal of mine whose daughter and her young child live with him here in Ballymun. She has been on a waiting list for a new house for eight years. Now if she went up to live on that roundabout until she got housed and let her little one beg on the motorway, what would happen? I'll tell what would happen - she would be arrested and her daughter would be taken into care.'
As O'Neill spoke about deporting the Roma family, around a dozen customers, mostly men, cheered and clapped. 'We thought our knackers [a derogatory term for Irish travellers] were bad, but this crowd are worse,' one man shouted out. Even younger people inside the shopping centre, such as Lee Butler from nearby Poppintree, said they resented the Roma's presence on the M50.
'They are putting themselves and others in danger on that motorway. God help the kids, but they have to be moved on,' he said.
The afternoon shoppers at Ballymun are likely to get their way. Under an EU protocol signed at the start of 2007, no one from any individual EU state can claim asylum in another country of the EU. Having endured a gruelling journey through Europe to get to Ireland, the Rostas are about to find the door to a new life in the republic shut in their faces.