Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Deadly weapons used in Ireland's Traveller brawls

Guns. Knives. Chainsaws. Swords. Shovels. Pickaxes. Scabbards. Golf clubs. Steel baseball bats. Screwdrivers.

These are just some of the weapons that have been used in vicious street battles in Irish towns and cities over the last 12 months.



All of the incidents have involved Traveller families and all have happened in broad daylight, sickening those forced to witness them, and exhausting garda resources.



But it is the sheer ferocity and scale of the violence that has shocked even hardened gardai and led to deep unease in the towns where the fighting has been taking place.



Last weekend, the drafting in of armed gardai to control a riot on a housing estate in Tralee, Co Kerry, seemed to mark a tipping point in the feuds that threaten to tear the travelling community apart.



Gardai, social workers, church officials and Traveller leaders have now come together to try to analyse the cause of the problems.



The most pressing need, however, is to get the violence to stop.



Dozens of people have been arrested and face charges over a string of major incidents in cities and towns such as Tralee, Waterford and Dublin.



Others could yet face the wrath of the law once video footage has been analysed.



The latest explosion came last weekend when two Traveller families in the Mitchells area of Tralee became embroiled in a savage melee involving up to 50 men, women and children. Gardai told the Irish Independent that at one stage a gun was produced and officers unsuccessfully grappled with the individual who fled with it.



As the violence escalated in St Martin's Park, gardai with video-cameras filmed the battle, garda vans and cars from across Co Kerry raced to the scene to provide backup.



Quite extraordinarily, the garda's armed Rapid Response Unit, originally designed with gangland crime in mind, was summoned from Cork to help quell the trouble.



With a number of people before the courts on public order charges, gardai are at a loss to understand what triggered the latest bout of feuding.



"Two families are involved," said a senior garda yesterday. "We are at a total loss as to what happened as previously they were all friendly and lived peacefully among themselves."



Naturally, with all the negative publicity, there are fears of an impact on Tralee's big annual event, the Rose of Tralee.



Few people last week even wanted to acknowledge the latest Traveller feud and hope, by ignoring it, that tourists will still flock to the town.



Despite the feuding being just a stone's throw from the famous Rose marquee, gardai are confident the event will not be marred by further displays of street-fighting.



Across Ireland, gardai have been stretched to breaking point by trying to contain the many feuds.



Petrol bombs, stones and other dangerous missiles have been used in clashes. One street row was described by an eye witness as "like a scene from 1970s Belfast".



Another mini-riot was triggered, say some Travellers, by a 'King of the Tinkers' fistfight, while other maintain it was over the intrusion of out of town Travellers just looking for trouble.



While some feuds are centred on perceived slights and insults to family honour, other incidents around the country that involve Travellers have had their roots in crime.



Seizures of assets from Travellers worth more than €100,000 are no longer a rarity to investigators from the Criminal Assets Bureau, sources said yesterday.



A recent success included an application last January to seize two vehicles, a Range Rover SE sports model and a BMW car, purchased with the proceeds of crime.



The targeted figure in this case was only 19 years old and a member of the Travelling community. His name was Thomas Joyce and in June he was shot dead.



Senior gardai also confirmed Travellers based in south and west Dublin have been involved in a spate of crime around the country over the past few years, mainly robberies and aggravated burglaries, where violence was used.

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