"Human crisis or welfare tourism". The front page of The Irish Times supplement Weekend Review on the 21st of July. Alison Healy's story about 32 Roma adults and 22 children encamped on M50 motorway roundabout near Dublin airport.
It is Ireland's busiest road and Roma have been living here since early May. It took nearly three months to break Irish patience and now the story is all over the place: The Irish Times, BBC, The Observer, etc.
Like a refugee camp
According to The Observer, conditions at the camp have deteriorated over the past few days. The scene resembles the slums of an Asian city rather than 21st-century Ireland.
The air around the two camps reeks of human excreta and rotting food; children as young as two play in mud and filth; grass verges to either side of the families' makeshift shelters are covered in rubbish and colonies of tiny flies attach themselves to anything that moves. The tents they sleep in have been flooded during the recent heavy rains. A number of parents have even put down discarded posters from the last general election; one child could be seen last Thursday having a nap on top of a picture of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
Last Thursday two children from the camps were taken to Temple Street Hospital in central Dublin following an outbreak of severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Non-governmental organisations campaigning for the Roma to stay in the state have claimed that there is a danger of disease breaking out.
Photo by J P. Ireland Photoline
In A. Healy's words, the conditions resemble a refugee camp, but when the people are asked why they don't take up a Government offer to be flown home, the answer is always the same. "I no want to go back to Romania. I die from the hunger in Romania. Here I have somewhere where I can sleep", says one of these Roma people in English which far exceeds many Lithuanians' and Poles' who have been flooding Ireland since 2004 - after being accepted to the EU.
Finito to welfare tourism
Unlike Lithuanians or citizens of any of 10 countries who joined the EU in 2004 Romanians and Bulgarians are restricted from working in Ireland unless they have a work visa or are self-employed, although they do have freedom of movement within the EU. They are not entitled to social welfare payments, child benefits or emergency accommodation.
It seems that Irish government has learned from its previous mistakes when in the years before my country had joined the EU hundreds of my fellow-citizens surged towards the generous embrace of the Celtic Tiger. Some of them on the claims that they've been blackmailed by gypsies were seeking asylum here (and I happened to witness such an interview in the Department of Justice as a translator). If their wives gave birth to a child prior the decision thanks to the newborn baby they would become residents of Ireland and thus get the right to work. The days of "welfare tourism" are way behind now.
Romanians are not among the supporters
Pavee Point - a group supporting Irish Travellers' in Ireland - seems to be have become the main voice in the fight for Government's intervention in the "Roundabout Roma" situation. "They don't need Hilton Hotel, they just want one chance to work", The Irish Times quotes George Dancea, director of the Roma support Group, which was set up by Pavee Point Traveller's Centre. Pavee Point is also calling on the Government to provide emergency accommodation for the group.
This call is supported by 20 non-governmental organizations, yet strangely (?) enough the Romanian Community of Ireland is not among them. Quite the contrary. The groups' chairman Vasile Ross points out that if the Government gives in to Pavee Point's pressure, more Roma will come. And some figures say that there might be about 2 mln of them in Romania alone. "This is how Roma work. They will try to gain access. Give them a finger and they will take both hands", says Vasile Ross in The Irish Times.
If you aspire for a job, you'll get one
Tolerance and bloodsucking slothfulness are two totally different things. Let me remind you that before my country had joined the EU hundreds and quite possibly thousands of Lithuanians arrived to Ireland seeking to work illegally. For cash, yet half the amount of the minimum wage, without paying taxes, blue-collar workers sweating in unbearable conditions in mushroom processing factories in the Northern Ireland, students with Master's degrees working as kitchen porters in order to save money for Ph.D studies, husband's leaving their wives back home and doing nightshifts while meditating how they'll make love again in the newly refurbished house, etc.
I've always believed if somebody wants to work and is prepared to work hard, one will find the job. Let me ask you then why those gypsies who beg on Grafton Street in the heart of Dublin city don't? Why they make their 8-year-old children beg (and I've seen this)?
Flights, benefits and possibly free housing offered... in Romania
A spokesman for the group on the roundabout confirmed to the BBC they had been offered free flights back to Romania by the Irish Government, but none of them wanted to return. They were also promised by the Romanian government that they would have health and education benefits and would be considered for free housing.
Romanian embassy officials in Dublin say they are embarrassed by the activities of the gypsies, many of whom are begging on the streets of Dublin. The embassy, according to The Irish Times, even doubts "Roundabout Roma" claims that their living conditions in Romania were unbearable. According to the embassy sources, the families had sold their houses to fund their trip to Ireland.
15 days left
On the 21st of July, at around 5.30 am, Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNBI) officers served immigration papers on 86 Roma people camping in Ballymun. The group have 15 days to make representations to Minister for Justice Brian Lenihan as to why he should not make a removal order, in which case they would be transported back to Romania.
New Irish Government faces a very tough challenge now. Ireland previously has made decisions which earned this country the name of a Celtic Tiger. The Gordian Knot on M50 is a test that questions Tiger's courage and determination. And the situation is being observed by 2 mln. Roma in Romania and the whole EU, who previously had doubts about accepting Romania to the club and I am convinced Roma people were one of the main reasons for these reservations. But let me remind just once again - tolerance and bloodsucking slothfulness are two totally different things.