THE TV3 documentary on Rathkeale, The Town That Travellers Took Over, which aired on Monday night has sparked a mixed reaction within the town.
For some, it was a case of nothing new. And for more, the programme was overly negative, focusing on the alleged criminal activity of a minority of Travellers, with no proven connections to the town other than a Limerick registration.
But nobody is really arguing with the fact, underlined in the programme, that Travellers have been buying up and now own a significant portion of the town’s property, although the figure of 80% is probably too high.
More disturbing by far, however, was the claim made in the programme that Travellers have paid over-the-odds for property and have intimidated people into selling, often paying a substantial portion of the deal “under the table”. The programme also suggested that property-buying in Rathkeale was a way for some Travellers to launder money.
These claims are not new. But anecdotal evidence is not the same as proof and these claims need to be investigated, and urgently. Otherwise, the good name of all Travellers and all settled people who buy or sell property in the town is at risk.
The local community council has been calling for an audit of property in the town for a number of years, a call that has been backed by local councillor Stephen Keary and Niall Collins TD. Padraig Doherty, who is chairman of Rathkeale Community Council and who took part in the programme, now hopes the documentary may stir the authorities into action.
Speaking to the Limerick Leader, he said he had hoped the documentary, would have done deeper into the problems of dereliction, deterioration and planning. “It touched on certain things but there is a long way to go to dig into what is really happening in Rathkeale.”
But, he added: “It was good to see that Gerry Sheerin (county council acting director of planning) admits there is a problem in Rathkeale.”
And while he described presenter and producer Paul Connelly as a “good guy” who had done a good job, unfortunately, he said, the programme gives an outsider’s image of Rathkeale as a place you wouldn’t go. And he can’t agree with that.
Seamus Hogan, chairman of Rathkeale Town Action Group, also participated in the programme . “It didn’t highlight the real problems that need to be fixed,” he said. “It concentrated on the negative. It didn’t do Rathkeale any favours.”
He admitted to feeling “a bit deflated” by the programme. “I thought it would be different.”
And he was dismayed by some of the comments on Twitter, Facebook and on Limerick 95FM. Nobody in the town was in denial about the problems, he said, but what was needed was to get to the root of those problems. And he believes this can only be done through a focused task force involving all the agencies including the Gardai, the Revenue and others sitting down and looking at Rathkeale as a whole and acknowledging the difficulties. This needed to be done fast, he said. “The town needs help.” But, he continued: “There is still a large settled community here and we are going nowhere.”
Niall Collins TD, who said on air that the settled community feels “under siege”, was satisfied with the programme. “He got a representative cross-section of the community,” he said. “I couldn’t dispute any part of it. I haven’t had anybody contact me to take issue with any part of it.
“I think it should help highlight the situation which I and others have been articulating in relation to the issues around Rathkeale ” he continued. “Anything which keeps the focus on that and which may ultimately lead to the situation being addressed has to be looked on as a positive.”
Mr Collins has called for a regeneration programme for Rathkeale, with a full property audit as a first step.