Traveller discrimination has come to the fore in Ireland once again

This group of travellers are sat amongst caravans and big top style tents.
This group of travellers are sat amongst caravans and big top style tents.
This group of travellers are sat amongst caravans and big top style tents.
This group of travellers are sat amongst caravans and top style tents. – Photo credit: Tyne & Wear Archives Museums

TWO families were laid to rest three weeks ago.

Sylvia and Thomas Connors and three of their children, Jim (5), Christie (2), and Mary (5 months) were brought to the local Church of the Ascension for their funeral mass.

The funeral of Tara Gilbert, Willy Lynch  and their children Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4), and of Jimmy Lynch (39), took place in Bray the day before.

They were the victims of the Carrickmines tragedy last week.

They happened to be Travellers.

It made some headlines and it crossed people’s minds.

After the fire and deaths of two families, the immediate focus was to move people from the temporary halting site.

Yet the people of Carrickmines protested about the relocation to another temporary site. Of course, none of them shows their faces on camera.

They have now reached an agreement to relocate to a car park. Yes, a car park.

‘Progressive Ireland’ voted yes to the Marriage referendum in May and became front page news worldwide.

But the last week and a half has highlighted that we are not the progressive Ireland we made ourselves out be on May 22nd.

Instead, it showed there is a deep racism engraved in Irish culture; especially towards Travellers.

My secondary school English teacher, Ronan Moore, the best teacher I’ve had to date, recently released a book.

‘365 Reasons to Love Ireland’ is the name of it.

Number 205 is titled: ‘The Travelling Community.’

It reads: “They have a stunning tradition of handicraft.

“They were the kings of repair, and long before consumerism set in they would fix whatever needed fixing, patch-up whatever needed patching-up and renovate whatever needed renovating.

“They played mournful music, were masters of banjo and their voices and ballads drew forth tears.

“When they turned their fighting spirit to the ‘professional’ arena they were world class and their young boxers would represent Ireland across the globe, with Francie Barrett flying the flag in the ’96 Olympics.

“And they even had their own language, ‘Cant’, as mysterious and hidden as both their culture and history.

“And though unfortunately they are sometimes the media’s least favoured ethnic minority, they are our ethnic minority and have been for probably more than a thousand years.”

What a fabulous culture.

A culture that not many know about nor put the time into it to learn about it.

I had the pleasure of spending a day with in Pavee Point in March, a non-governmental organisation that supports human rights for Travellers and Roma as well as working for solidarity for settled people.

I had the brilliant experience of learning about the history of Travellers and their culture.

But I also learned about the realities on a day-to-day basis for these people.

What if you were discriminated against every day in life in general; by society, education, the police force and even at parliamentary level, how would that affect your life?

The reality is 50% of Travellers in Ireland who feel discriminated against on a daily basis. There are staggering figures when you examine them.

Men in the Travelling community are seven times more likely to die by suicide, and women are six times more likely; that’s comparing Travellers with Ireland’s general population, whose suicide rate is among the highest in Europe.

Traveller men on average have a life expectancy of 15.1 years less compared to the general Irish population and women live 11.5 years less.

Pavee Point believe that education is the key in tackling the staggering figures such as suicide and life expectancy, however because of the widespread discrimination in education as well as everyday life, 63.2% of Travellers leave school by the time they are aged 15.

The lack of education also contributes to the 84% unemployment rate in the Travelling community, but it all comes back to the discrimination to begin with in school.

The most insulting one above all was, as Ronan Moore references in his book, is Travellers are a distinct ethnic minority.

Yet the government refuses to recognise them as such, as recently as two weeks ago in the Dail chamber.

And that has a massive influence knock on effect.

There are Travellers who have graduated as doctors and practice but refuse to identify as one because of the stigma associated to Travellers.

Likewise in the primary and secondary school teaching profession as well as Gardaí.

Traveller discrimination in Ireland is widespread. From school, to the workplace, to everyday life and even our Irish government inflict on their rights by refusing to accept Travellers as a distinct ethnic minority.

The issue however must be tackled. There is clear discrimination against Travellers and that must change. If that does, the fight against discrimination on a wider scale will come.

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