“This week-end we celebrate the first International Human Rights Day with Irish Travellers officially recognised as a minority ethnic group by the Irish State. We will be posting photos and messages on Facebook and Twitter of people wearing the Traveller ethnicity pin.”
From top: President Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins; Education Minister Richard Bruton; Irish Solidarity–People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger; Chargé d’affaires at the US Embassy in Dublin Reece Smyth; Ireland soccer player Cyrus Christie with Thomas Collins; Bridgie Nevin, Goretti Horgan and Eamonn McCann; Anne Marie McDonagh; Kathleen Sherlock; and Breda Quilligan.
The launch by the Justice Committee of Reports on Traveller Ethnicity. To wit:
Traveller representatives have expressed confidence of a “historic” announcement in the coming weeks….Committee Chairperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin has recommended that the Government should then conduct a review, in consultation with Traveller representative groups, of any legislative or policy changes required on foot of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity.
Pic 2 from left: Independent TDs Clare Daly and Mick Wallace with Singer and Senator Frances Black and Sinn Fein’s Justice Committee Chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláinin the AV room at Leinster house.
The Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, North Great Charles Street Dublin 1
John Connors, Christy Moore and Bressie helped launch a position paper on Traveller Men’s Health. Research shows that men in the Travelling community suffer more from depression, low self-esteem and discrimination.
The Pavee Point organisation wants a national strategy to address the suicide rate among the male Travelling community, which is almost seven times the national average.
Research published a decade ago showed Traveller men’s lives were 15 years shorter that the overall male population in Ireland. Pavee Point says there is nothing to suggest that has changed.
The Traveller advocacy group Pavee Point has welcomed the news that Taoiseach Enda Kenny has resolved to support the recognition of Traveller ethnicity.
Mr Kenny said on Wednesday that the Government would begin taking steps towards the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in the new year.
The Taoiseach said he had asked Minister of State at the Department of Justice David Stanton to prepare a report for the social affairs committee on the question of recognising Traveller ethnicity. The report is expected in a few weeks.
From top: Traveller boys in Dublin, 1980 by Brian Palm; The aftermath of the Carrickmines halting site fire, September 10, 2015; Frankie Gaffney
Frankie Gaffney writes:
Primitive, unruly, unkempt, nomadic, prone to thievery and feuding — they ride horses without saddles or stirrups — they’re clannish, ignorant, dirty, lawless and violent.
This is how the English described the Irish people for almost a millenium.
In this the centenary year of 1916, the Irish nation and State wallowed in self-pity over this treatment — and enthusiastically celebrated our violent rejection of it.
It is beyond irony that right to the present day we visit prejudice and racism on our own citizens from the Travelling community in precisely the same terms once used against us.
A barbarous people
“Their want of civilization, shown both in their dress and mental culture, makes them a barbarous people… Exceedingly averse to civil institutions, they lead the same life their fathers did in the woods and open pastures, neither willing to abandon their old habits or learn anything new… In riding, they neither use saddles, nor boots, nor spurs… Abandoning themselves to idleness, and immersed in sloth, their greatest delight is to be exempt from toil…”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
But this is not from one of the many sensational newspaper articles denigrating Travellers in the Ireland of today, this is from a 12th-century manuscript, Topographia Hiberniae, that was written by a courtier and scholar, Giraldus Cambrensis.
Like all such dehumanising narratives, it was composed with the distinct aim of dominating and dispossessing the people it described.
Indeed, Cambrensis followed the work shortly after with Expugnatio Hibernica — a celebratory account of King Henry II’s invasion of Ireland.
Echoes of these events resound.
It is more than symbolic that at the “Reclaim 1916” event (a commemoration “for the people, by the people”) a traditional Traveller wagon was shamefully prevented by Gardaí on the day from joining the parade as planned.
The current focus on 1916 might lead us into thinking rejection of English tyranny is a modern phenomenon, but this is not so. There has always been resistance to these injustices — militarily, but also diplomatically.
In 1317, the Irish Chieftains penned their “Remonstrance” to the Pope, bemoaning (among other things) the fact that Irish lives were not valued as much as English lives.
While such a state of affairs might belong in the 14th century, it sadly persists.
In June of 2015, six Irish students were killed when a balcony they were partying on collapsed in the university town of Berkeley California.
It is suspected that poor construction or maintenance were at least partly to blame.
Just a few months later that year, ten Irish Travellers perished in a fire.
Overcrowding, due to lack of space and inadequate provision of housing, has been cited as a cause of the death toll.
Five of those who died were children under the age of ten. There were glaring discrepancies in reactions to these two tragedies.
A New York Times piece about the Berkeley tragedy made reference to bad behaviour and drunkenness among Irish J-1 students.
It was slammed for insensitivity, and provoked a massive outcry from a variety of public figures. Officialdom was not silent either — the Irish Ambassador to the USA wrote to the paper and registered a complaint.
The article even prompted a vitriolic condemnation from former President Mary McAleese.
The language McAleese used in her open letter is telling:
“Today in Ireland we are hanging our heads in shock and sorrow at the needless deaths of six of our brightest and best young adults . . . the vast majority [of J-1 students] have been a credit to Ireland and only the very tiniest minority have not.”
Nobody was so enthusiastic in eulogising the victims of the Carrickmines fire.
McAleese and the other high-powered public figures who condemned coverage of the Berkeley tragedy (in the strongest possible terms) weren’t to be heard so robustly defending the Travelling community when they were grossly slandered in a variety of media following Carrickmines.
While it is likewise a small minority of Travellers who engage in bad behaviour, this defense was not offered by our establishment for them — nor, predictably but sadly, were the young children who died in the fire to be declared among “our best”.
This is not paranoid “victim-complex” thinking, or impressionistic “what-aboutery”. There is emerging empirical evidence to confirm this.
A pioneering study by Dr Fergal Quinn and Dr Elaine Vaughan is currently underway at University of Limerick, and looks set to demonstrate conclusively that there was stark media bias in this coverage.
Using linguistic techniques, they analysed articles in our national daily newspapers.
One striking aspect of the data they collected was unusually high incidences of the words “but” and “however” after the word “tragedy” in articles covering Carrickmines.
The study continues, but the fact such a high number of journalists felt the need to qualify the fact that a fire which killed ten human beings was “a tragedy” speaks volumes.
Predictably, worse was to be found in the comments sections.
The Journal.ie actually had to shut theirs down, but even that didn’t prevent people from venting their hate.
Journalist Gene Kerrigan has written powerfully about his shock, as comments such as “So sad” (posted before the thread was closed), were given a thumbs down by 268 people.
It is shocking that anyone could be so callous as to reject an expression of condolence in the wake of such a tragedy — but for hundreds to do so on all such comments is terrifying.
“Shame on you,” McAleese scolded the New York Times in outrage, but their article was mild and respectful in comparison to how the distraught Travelling coommunity were slandered and degraded in our press.
Incredibly, even worse treatment than this media denigration was to face the grieving Carrickmines families and survivors.
The Travelling community not only had to contend with vicious slurs, but in a disgusting and despicable development there were actual protests to prevent the survivors being temporarily accommodated nearby.
Let this sink in for a second: these are not hurtful words, or inappropriately timed references to misbehaviour.
This is people taking to the street and breaking the law to blockade a road, with the sole aim of preventing a devastated group of people from seeking shelter after an unconscionably horrific tragedy — the most lethal fire in this country since the Stardust disaster.
Cars blocking a JCB from entering a field to work on a site earmarked for Travellers who were left homeless following a fire at a halting site in Carrickmines last October
Travellers—Ireland’s only indigenous ethnic group—have existed for centuries, though there is no academic consensus on when the community became distinct. They have their own language known as Cant, which seems to be a mix of Irish, English, Hebrew, Latin and Greek.
Historically, they lived in caravans in encampments on the side of the road or in fields. But today, most of Ireland’s 30,000 travellers live in houses permanently or reside in halting sites, especially built to accommodate mobile homes. Here, they exist in an uneasy balance, neither properly settled nor free from a long history of marginalisation and discrimination that has led to high rates of poverty.
Many halting sites, including the one in Carrickmines, are supposed to be temporary. The living conditions in them are often poor, with overcrowding, poor sanitation, little access to water and electricity.
Despite underperforming at school and an unemployment rate of over 80%, travellers seem to have borne the brunt of austerity: between 2008 and 2013 the community experienced cuts of 85% on housing and education schemes.
Their health is also woefully poor: traveller men live 15 years less than settled men and women live 11 years less than settled women. The suicide rate is six times higher than the rest of the population; the infant mortality rate is of 14.1 per 1,000; in the settled population average is 3.9 per 1,000.
And travellers make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. Men are between five and 11 times more likes to be imprisoned than settled men while traveller women are 18-22 times more likely to be behind bars.
From top: John Connors (above) and Ryan Tubridy on the Late Late Show last Friday
You may have seen actor John Connors speak to Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ’s the Late Late Show last Friday.
Mr Connors’ appearance came ahead of his documentary, called I Am Traveller, to be broadcast on RTÉ Two on Thursday night.
Grab a tay.
Ryan Tubridy: “I’ve heard you saying that you felt that the Travelling community were well represented in Love/Hate in a way that you hadn’t before. Is that the case?”
John Connors: “Yeah.”
Turbridy: “Did you enjoy playing that role?”
Connors: “Yeah, I did yeah. Though I think, because what it dis was for the first time it portrayed a culture realistically – we talked in our language and we had our music involved. I know that I was a pipebomb dealer making pipebombs and, you know, killing people…”
Tubridy: “So you were delighted with the representation?”
Connors: “Yeah, 100%.”
Connors: “But you see the way I justified it in my own mind…”
Tubridy: “Go on, why?”
Connors: “Every other settled person there was killing people..”
Connors: “So once there’s one Traveller killing people, it wasn’t too, we had to balance it up a little bit.”
Tubridy: “So we’re all ok then?”
Tubridy: “Ok. Well you’ve made this programme, the documentary called I Am Traveller and I watched it and it packs a punch, let’s face it. And it’s, I guess, well why don’t you tell me: what is it? Or why is it called, even, I Am Traveller?”
Connors: “Well it’s called I Am Traveller because RTE called it I Am Traveller.”
Tubridy: “You didn’t decide it?”
Connors: “No, no, the original name was actually The K Word, knacker basically. And I thought that was a powerful title but..”
Tubridy: “Did you want to call it The Knacker?”
Connors: “No, The K Word. Just to show, just The K Word, to show the power behind the word.”
Connors: “You know what I mean? And to show that. But RTE changed that, probably shouldn’t go down that road.”
Tubridy: “Tell us, it’s a pity in some ways because it would have said, it would have packed a bigger punch, for you, cause you wanted to say it and highlight that.”
Connors: “Yeah, yeah, 100%.”
Tubridy: “And why, why The K Word?”
Connors: “Why The K Word? Because, well because knacker is a word that’s used day in, day out in Irish society, and it’s used towards Travellers and it’s a very hateful word.”
North Great Charles Street, Dublin
President Higgins with Sabina Higgins (right) and Molly Connors, before delivering a speech to mark Pavee Point’s 30th anniversary that urged greater understanding of traveller and Roma communites and touched on the recent tragedy in Carrickmines. More to follow.
From President Higgins’ speech:
“The campaigns for equality and non-discrimination, for recognition of the status of Travellers as an ethnic minority, and for access to essential services, which Pavee Point and others have led since then have been grounded in a deep and profound understanding of the position of Travellers within the framework of human rights and the Irish State’s obligations to respect, protect and promote those rights.
In the past I have been part of the debate on ethnic status. I recall Dr. Joshua Castellino and I rejecting what we felt was a very inadequate research basis for denying ethnic status.
Within the framework of human rights, there has been progress over the intervening years and it is important that is recognised.
Back when Pavee Point was formed, Traveller children were still segregated in Traveller schools and many Traveller children left education without completing primary school and were often illiterate. The very idea that these children could attend third level colleges was often beyond their own comprehension.
Today overt segregation in the classroom and beyond have ceased, more Traveller children are attending second level schools and young Travellers are achieving high levels of educational attainment, and increased numbers are progressing through third level education each year, but we are far from the fullest understanding of the heritage, culture and aspirations of Travellers as a people that is required. My own experiences of the institutional treatment of Travellers at local authority level were far from satisfactory.
It has often made Sabina and I not just sad, but angry at the treatment which Traveller families who had become our friends had to endure, including having to live in unsafe and even hazardous conditions.”
Members of Pavee Point and the Roma Centre hand over (to junior justice minister Aodhan O’Riordan) a petition of 5,463 signatures from people offering solidarity with the bereaved families and the wider traveller community in the wake of the Carrickmines fire tragedy last month.
The groups are seeking the set up of a Traveller Agency to drive “improvements in traveller accommodation, health, education and employment”.
From top: Michael Collins, Manu Paun and Patrick Reilly; Co-directer of the Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Ronnie Fay, Tessa Collins, Labour Party Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Aodhan O’Riordan and Tracy Reilly