Belfast Telegraph

Arson suspected as Donegal house for Travellers destroyed

By Greg Harkin

Gardai suspect that arsonists were behind a fire that gutted a house that had been bought for a Traveller family.

The €230,000 home had previously been the subject of a political row after a local councillor objected to the family of 13 getting the new five-bedroom property.

Fire crews were called to the house in the Parkhill area of Ballyshannon, Co Donegal, at 3am yesterday, but the house was already completely gutted and the roof had collapsed. No one was in the property at the time.

Garda forensic officers have examined the scene and will try to determine whether the blaze was started deliberately.

Last month, controversy arose over Fianna Fail councillor Sean McEniff's remarks that Travellers "should live in isolation".

"Parkhill is a very settled community. I would not like these people (the family) living beside me," he had said.

The Donegal Travellers Project reported Mr McEniff's comments to gardai.

Local TD Pearse Doherty said arsonists had "stolen a quarter-of-a-million euro from the people of Co Donegal" and accused Mr McEniff of "incitement to hatred".

Mr McEniff insisted "it is not incitement to hatred" and described those behind the alleged arson as "criminals".

However, he stood by his claims that it was wrong for Donegal County Council to purchase the house and allocate it to Travellers.

"There was nothing in what I said gave any succour or encouragement to criminal behaviour," said Mr McEniff.

Local residents' spokesman AJ Finnerty said: "We are shocked and horrified. We are saddened to see that such a beautiful home has been damaged.

"We understand that a full investigation will be carried out by An Garda Siochana. We ask that anybody who has information in relation to this fire contact their local garda station."

The Donegal Travellers Project said it was shocked, saddened, and outraged about the alleged arson.

"We are also extremely upset for the family who were supposed to move in to the house. Over the past three weeks there has been a hardening of attitudes in Donegal against Travellers, which has been very difficult for the Traveller community here," a statement said.

"We are asking all political parties and representatives to come together to address this emergency in Donegal."

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