Jimmy Ward, the Ballyshannon Traveller whose council home was gutted by flames just days before his family were due to move into it, has said his family are devastated, not only by the fire, but by the level of hostility being directed at them.
Mr Ward spoke yesterday morning on a local radio programme. He said: “We were to get the keys the night the house burnt down.
“There was a lot of respect for us in the town for so long, I don’t know how it ended up like this.
“We are torn apart here, we are. Me and my family – all our reputations
“I’m ashamed to talk to the people. They imagine it was me that done it [burnt the house].
“When we go down the town everyone is gawking at us, looking at us, all screeking and scratching around the children and around Geraldine. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
The children, he added, have been particularly affected.
“They’re ashamed on their life to go to school at all, after the comments that were made. One of our girls is terrorised, with people waving at her and making abusive comments at her.
“It’s been very hard to deal with all the mayhem caused. We’ve done nothing wrong.”
Despite all the furore, Mr Ward told Ocean FM the family does not want to leave the area.
“We’re part of this community. My father went down through the town in a hearse when he died and I’ll be going down too. This is our country. Ballyshannon is our home town.
“Even after all this, we’re still here. When all the blarney and all the fuss in the papers and the radios is over, we’ll still be here on the corner in our three-bedroom house.
“We’ve always experienced discrimination, being Travelling people. It’s a racist society but we’re getting there. We’re building up, with intelligent men like Hughie Friel. He left school at 10 years of age but he can go up to Dublin on the television and there wasn’t many councillors ringing him to take him on. So we need more education, more people to build us up and take us off this ground level.
“We’re still in a three-bedroom house with 10 children. I’m still allocated a house. Whenever it comes up, I don’t know, but I’ve done nothing to cause this.”