As Garda investigations continue into an arson attack at a house in Letterkenny, the Nigerian family who had been resident there claim they have been the victims of racially motivated incidents since they moved into the dwelling three years ago.
Gerry Obi had, hours before the attack on Monday evening, just been released from hospital where he had spent two weeks after having suffered a heart attack brought on, his wife Francesca insisted, by the ongoing spate of incidents.
He was asleep in the house when he heard a loud rapping on the front door at around 7 p.m. with neighbours and fire personnel informing him of a fire at the rear of the property. His wife and three children were out at the time of the incident.
The blaze destroyed a shed and its entire contents and also caused damage to the back of the house. “We had an oil tank which was only half full - had it been full the whole house could have burnt down.
“Somebody could have been killed,” Mr. Obi maintained.
After the alarm was initially raised, the fire brigade was quickly on the scene to prevent the blaze spreading to other properties in the estate.
A Garda forensic team carried out an examination of the scene to determine the exact cause.
The family related a litany of incidents that have occurred since they moved to the Council house with a friend of the family, Sean McClafferty, describing it as “three years of hell.”
He said: “These attacks are definitely racial. There are seventeen other houses in the close and this is the only one that is being attacked.
“If this fire had broken out during the night we’d be talking about deaths here.”
The couple and their family have spent two nights of this week in bed and breakfast accommodation. They met with Council staff on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the possibility of alternative housing and were due to meet with Local Authority representatives again yesterday.
“We’ve been told we have to get a letter from the Gardai before any action can be taken. I don’t know where we stand or where we will be staying,” said Mrs. Obi.
She recounted a series of attacks on the house in the three years since they moved into Ard na Ri. “The first one happened when I was coming home from work one evening and somebody threw an egg.”
Windows have also been smashed in the house and in December last, a van belonging to Mr. Obi - the couple run a shop on the town’s High Road - was damaged. “It was completely destroyed - Gerry had used it for work.” Another vehicle belonging to the family was also the subject of an attack.
An emotional Mrs. Obi said the ongoing incidents have shocked the family.
“We came to Ireland nine years ago and lived in Dublin first and never had any problems there.
“We came here for the future of our children but I can’t see any future for them here now.”
Mr. Obi said he had lain down to rest after returning from Letterkenny General Hospital when an hour later he heard banging on the door and a voice repeatedly shouting: “Anybody in the house?.’
“I rushed out and saw the fire at the back. We had a bicycle in the shed along with cooking utensils and a lawnmower and other things. They were all destroyed and fire damaged.
“We have had some very bad incidents but this is the worst yet. We won’t be going back to the house.
“We pay our rates and everything else. I don’t know why anybody would want to do this to us. I can’t understand it. It’s not good for my heart.”