The following is a letter written by David Enright has been published in The Irish Times this morning regarding the treatment of travellers:
Sir, – I wish to praise the highly articulate article by Brigid Quilligan, pressing the case for the legal recognition of the distinct ethnicity of Travellers (Opinion, February 6th). You recently also carried an extensive article regarding Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD, who is seeking to bring forward legislation to recognise Travellers as an ethnic group.
Irish Travellers have been recognised as a distinct ethnic minority in the UK since 2000. Travellers have a long, long way to go in the UK in terms of overcoming discrimination. However, despite the huge hurdles ahead, Irish Travellers in the UK are moving forward slowly.
Sadly this does not yet appear to be the case in the Republic.
Since January 24th I have been carrying around an article from your paper, which truly shocked me. It gave an account of the statements of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors who you reported as saying, “They [Travellers] can be sent to Spike Island for all I care” and that Travellers should live in isolation, away from settled people.
Spike Island was effectively a concentration camp where many Irish people, my grandfather Seán Moylan included, were held and sentenced to death by military courts.
I was therefore stunned that elected representatives of the main Irish political parties would call for Travellers to be sent to Spike Island, a former concentration camp and/or to live in isolation, away from settled people.
Had these councillors made the same statements about Jewish people or black people, this story would have been front page news; and I have little doubt that their parties would have taken the strongest action against them.
As it is, Fine Gael merely says that the comments are “personal opinion”. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should be ashamed of their abject failure to challenge such appalling statements by their elected members.
Travellers are not some alien amorphous group. They are ordinary people. They encompass the good, the bad, the ugly, and indeed the beautiful, as all society does. They have children, and their children have hopes and dreams, just like any other Irish children. Unchallenged racism and reprehensible public statements by elected representatives, form part of the weight that crushes the dreams, hopes and aspirations of little Irish boys and girls, who also happen to be Travellers.
How a society treats its most marginalised citizens is a key indicator of how modern, advanced and civilised that society is. The way Irish society treats Travellers must change, at the very least for the sake of dreams and hopes of Irish Traveller children. – Yours, etc,