What is it about them Travellers? by Stephen Todd

"Pie ball", "Pikey", "Knacker", "Gypo". A beautiful collection of words aren't they? Words that carry connotations now well beyond what they used to mean in general Irish society. They've become ingrained in our vocabulary over the past few years by way of describing a certain cohort of society, not dissimilar to the intentions of words such as "faggot" or "dyke". All of the above are words used, intentionally or otherwise, to demean or belittle a person.

Discrimination towards Travellers is, for me, something that is all too regular and generally accepted within society. Comments such as "sure aren't they just Irish" and "why don't they just live in houses" are fairly common place, and probably some of the more mature comments you're likely to hear.

Nomadism, or the want to move around, is an integral part of what it means to be Traveller. In 1963, Travellers became part of a political discourse, one that viewed their culture as that of wrong doers. There was a huge political push to coerce these people to assimilate into Irish society, thus allowing a distinguishing part of their culture to fade out into the abyss. From that year, to the present day, there have been efforts by successive governments to advance this approach in a hope that Travellers, as the word implies, would fall into place and insert themselves into the cracks and travel no more. 

All of these attempts have failed, and in my opinion, have isolated and disenfranchised a lot of people within the Traveller community. It's the whole concept of cause and effect really. The failure to recognise their status as a nomadic group of people, with a particular lifestyle, has left the water somewhat muddled.

I don't deny for one minute that there aren't problems within the Traveller community, the media have that well covered, but much like any other ethnic group, you will always have a percentage of those who will do wrong in the eyes of the law. But when some of these ‘wrongs’ are done in accordance with a long standing culture dating back well before policy ever existed, then it is a fundamental flaw within policy and those who construct it. Take for example the "illegal" parking on roadsides or in unused spaces. Why is it that government cannot provide spaces for Travellers to live, a space with clean running water, a place with basic electricity, a place that has something above a third-world standard of human waste disposal facilities? One or two of these places in every county would not cost a lot if looked at from a long term point of view, and ticks a few boxes in regards to human rights.

Personally, I really think that education is the key. Education allows people to become empowered. Home schooling is a reality for a lot of children in this country, so why not adapt this in a way that suits another type of lifestyle. This in turn, can only have positive effects on society as a whole. Education doesn't just stop at Travellers though. The wider population of this great nation also need to educate themselves in what it means to be a Traveller, and understand, without prejudice.

The Equal Status Act of 2000 recognised members of the Traveller community as a minority group, although this is largely yet to become evident in practical terms. Traveller culture, and its origins, must be understood and respected. It's only then that we can come together and tackle misogyny, social isolation, mental health issues and the criminalisation of a culture. It's not too long ago that we had a vote on human rights and the equal status for citizens of our country. Why let double standards apply? We can't cherry pick those who deserve equality and those who don't, that's the essence of equality, the fair treatment of everyone. Never has a problem been solved by division and bickering. Is it not time to change tack? Just a thought…