*Some people may argue that Irish Travellers are not a separate race and so the word racist doesn’t apply. I disagree with this. But if you prefer to use the term “anti-Traveller bigot” then that’s fine by me.
Yesterday I read a “Letter to the Editor” in an Irish newspaper. It was written by a Galway city councillor, Mr. Noel Larkin. And it is a total and utter disgrace that it got published. Sadly, the views expressed in it are common amongst settled people and demonstrate just how badly discriminated against Irish Travellers are.
The letter itself is very long and I haven’t had the energy to write it out in full, though I’ve attached a screenshot of it. And will be quoting out of it.
He has a problem with the recommendations of an Expert Report published last week with respect to Traveller housing needs. He fails to mention that councils legally have to develop Traveller Accommodation plans under the Traveller Accommodation Act 98 yet since then have continued to fail to implement them and underspent their Traveller Accommodation budget year on year. This led to Traveller organizations calling for a review of the Traveller Accommodation Act which gave rise to the Expert Group recommendations. Traveller Accommodation cultural needs are not being met. Traveller specific accommodation is not being provided. Instead Travellers are offered houses which they don’t want and which aren’t suitable to meet their needs. He believes Travellers ought to be discriminated against due to several “problems” he had identified occurring when Travellers are housed in local council housing.
Problems associated with Travellers being housed in some areas are: anti-social behaviour, roaming horses, green areas being used to feed horses, sulky racing, feuding traveller clans, scrap storage, destruction of properties, and many more.
Ok, so let’s break down these “problems” and see if we, as in settled people in partnership with the Traveller community, can come up with solutions to them.
Ugh. What exactly does that mean? It’s a very vague term used when people don’t like how others behave. The thing is, anti-social behaviour is not exclusive to Travellers. It’s something that occurs everywhere. We all have neighbours who make our lives hell. Singling out Travellers like this is discrimination.
This one is easy. Build them stables. Travellers and horses belong together. Horses are a huge part of Traveller culture. You cannot expect Travellers to give up their horses just because you give them a council house. What are they expected to do with their horses? Give them away? Have them put down? Their horses are more than “just” a pet. You can’t then go and blame them when they literally have nowhere to keep their horses. So, give them stables. And before you go on about the land and money that would cost, think about something that’s part of settled Irish culture. The GAA. Plenty of public funding, and land, goes to GAA clubs. If we can find those, why not stables for Travellers horses? In fact, having stables and horses on public council estates would benefit the entire community. Settled and Traveller children could bond over their love of horses. Travellers could give horse riding lessons. My sister has an intellectual disability. She benefits a lot from working with horses through an organisation called Festine Lente. Some autistic children benefit from equine therapy. There is no reason why Travellers can’t be trained to provide these services. And to run Community Stables that benefit everyone.
Green areas being used to feed horses:
So, give them pastures to graze their horses on. Again, alongside the Community Stables. Fenced off green areas dedicated to horses. And provide grants for hay during the winter.
What if we celebrated sulky racing? Created special tracks for racing on. It could become a huge sport. Sulky racing requires huge skill and athleticism. Could you imagine if it became an Olympic sport? We celebrate indigenous Irish sports through the GAA. Why not sulky racing?
Feuding Traveller clans:
I have a sister who lives in Waterford and is friends with Traveller families there. Her husband is part Kurdish and so understands about feuds. He has taken part in a few feud fights, helping out his Traveller friends. Because they are part of the culture in a lot of the world. He grew up in a similar culture. In the same way that blood feuds are still an issue in parts of Turkey, nobody is denying that they are a problem for Traveller families. Also feuding happens in the settled community here too. For example there are well known feuds between rival criminal gangs in Dublin and elsewhere. Also, to a lesser degree maybe or at least less visibly, I know many settled families torn apart by feuding over inheritances. But the solution is not to simply say “why can’t you all just get along?” These things take time. An awful lot of time. They take mediation. They take dialogue. The root causes of the feuds need to be worked on. Later on, Mr. Larkin states that Travellers shouldn’t get to refuse a council house based on another Traveller family that they are feuding with living in the estate already. So, how is he proposing to reduce feuding if feuding families can’t engage with each other in neutral spaces? If they are forced to live cheek by jowl before they are ready to make peace?
I admit I know very little about scrap storage. But I imagine that sheds could be made available if outdoor storage is unhygienic or unsightly. There is a scrap metal business operating out of Galway Docks. It’s been there for decades. It is very unsightly and the rust particles in the air fall on nearby boats as a fine dust that’s hardly healthy. Why doesn’t Mr. Larkin campaign to get this business closed or moved if he’s against the storage of scrap?
Destruction of properties:
What exactly does he mean by this? I’ve seen some photos of council houses “destroyed” by conversion into makeshift stables. Is this what he is referring to? Because Community Stables would solve this problem. Travellers are not “destroying” properties for fun. They are simply doing the best they can with properties that don’t suit their needs. Instead of condemning them for doing so, why not try to find out the underlying reasons it’s happening and try to solve those?
And many more:
Those words are so vague as to be meaningless. I can think of “many more” problems. Not with Travellers but with Mr. Larkin and his gang.
The solutions I have presented here are merely ideas I’ve thrown out off the top of my head. To show how it’s not an unimaginable feat to accommodate the needs of Irish Travellers. Obviously the only people qualified to come up with solutions that might work are Irish Travellers themselves. Unfortunately their ideas are rarely listened to or acted upon. Has Mr. Larkin ever sat down with Traveller Activists and actually listened to them? He’d be better off doing that than writing incendiary rubbish such as this.
He then goes on to demand an apology by Traveller activist groups to the settled community for “branding them all as racists”. I’m sorry but all settled people are racists. This is simply a fact. Yes, even settled people who are from families that are friendly towards travellers, like mine was. Settled people grow up surrounded by a culture that discriminates against travellers and we are all influenced by this whether we like it or not. All we can do is actively work towards being less racist. And we can’t do that if we deny our inherent racism.
Here are more choice words by Mr. Larkin:
Travellers are now being given every opportunity to be housed and to be integrated into society. But some choose to reject these opportunities and instead choose a life associated with a culture which may not blend itself with the settled community way of living.
Travellers, like all minorities, should not have to “be integrated into society” in order to be accepted. Integration is not the same as inclusion. They should not have to give up their culture, to be made to blend in to settled culture. It should not be up to Travellers to lose their identities, their language, their accents, their way of being, just to have access to housing.
He goes on to say:
Traveller accommodation will only be tolerated in settled communities when the major problems associated with Traveller accommodation are identified and adequately dealt with.
Let that sink in. “Tolerated”. “Dealt with”. This is not the language of acceptance. This is not the language of friendship. This is can basically be translated as “change everything about yourself, and we may deign to tolerate your presence”. As an Autistic person, I’m all to familiar with this rhetoric. Is it any wonder the suicide rates in both the autistic and Irish Traveller communities are at epidemic proportions.
Ironic that his parting words are “Fairness and equality for all is required!” It is obvious he has no idea what those words mean.