Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

2 August 2001 Edition

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Anti-Traveller prejudice remains

According to a recent survey conducted throughout the 26 Counties, general attitudes towards the Travelling Community have not changed in recent times. MICHAEL PIERSE talks to Martin Collins of the Pavee Point centre in Dublin about why Travellers remain marginalised, and how that situation can be reversed.

Michael Pierse: What is the work of the Pavee Point? How has it been successful?

Martin Collins: Pavee Point is an organisation of Travellers and settled people, committed to achieving human rights for Irish Travellers. We say that real improvement in Travellers' living circumstances and social situation requires the active involvement of Travellers themselves. We also say that non-Travellers have a responsibility to address the processes that serve to exclude Travellers from participating as equals in Irish society.

Pavee Point (and the Dublin Travellers' Education Development Group - as it was formerly known) has been successful in spearheading a Traveller movement. This has resulted in the establishment of three national Traveller organisations and over 60 local Traveller organisations. These organisations in turn have facilitated Traveller representation on national and local committees involved in advancing Traveller issues.

In the last 15 years, due to the lobbying of Traveller organisations, government policy has shifted away from assimilation and towards acknowledging cultural diversity. There is now a statutory National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee. There is also the Traveller Health Advisory Committee and an Education Advisory Committee.

Last year, the Equal Status Act was enacted. Travellers are a named group in this legislation and for the first time Travellers have been given the means to challenge discrimination.

Despite these policy and legislative developments, Travellers' living circumstances have not improved. The failure of the 1998 Traveller Accommodation Act to deliver means that there are now more Traveller families living on the side of the road, without access to basic facilities, than there were in the 1960s. Discrimination is still a daily occurrence for Travellers on both an individual and an institutional level.


AP: The Dublin government has spent £900,000 over three years on its `Citizen Traveller' campaign, yet according to the recent National Attitudes to Travellers and Minority Groups survey, there has been little change in the general perception of the Travelling community. Why is this the case?

MC: I would suggest that it is naïve to think that a two-year campaign, featuring intermittent posters and some radio ads, can reverse the entrenched and ingrained views and prejudices that exist towards Travellers.

Reversing age-old prejudices is a long-term job of work. Citizen Traveller is just one part of a bigger strategy to change people's attitudes.


AP: There has been much use made by those who would blame societal prejudice against Travellers mostly on Travellers themselves, of the state in which a GAA pitch in Ballyboden, Dublin, was left by Travelling people in recent weeks. The clean-up bill cost the local county council £40,000. Can you honestly expect local people to welcome Travellers with open arms in light of this behaviour?

MC: Pavee Point does not condone illegal dumping, whether that dumping is carried out by Travellers or by settled people. Any person found to be illegally dumping should be prosecuted. From the government's recent national anti-litter campaign, it is obvious that as a nation we have a dumping and litter problem. While acknowledging that there is a minority of Travellers who have dumped illegally, it is also important to acknowledge that settled people dump at Traveller sites and trailers, knowing that Travellers will be blamed.

However, if there was no Traveller dumping, settled people would still object to Travellers being in their neighbourhoods. The rubbish issue has often become a pretext, whereby settled people seek to justify their prejudice against Travellers.

The majority of Travellers are very responsible in terms of disposing of their rubbish - and this is often in difficult circumstances, without proper access to refuse services. The 1,100 Traveller families forced to park illegally need to be facilitated with serviced sites, so they can avail of refuse services and other services.


AP: Some people perceive Travellers as parasites, making a fortune and living in the lap of luxury. What is the reality for Travelling people living in Celtic Tiger Ireland?

MC: It seems that the Celtic Tiger must also have a prejudice against Travellers. Even with the labour shortages that Ireland is experiencing, Irish Travellers have not been able to access jobs due to high levels of discrimination. This is shown by the fact that Travellers are becoming a larger proportion of the long-term unemployed than previously.

The Department of Environment and Local Government have made it clear that the financing of Traveller accommodation is not a problem. The problem is at local level. Local authorities are unable or unwilling to deliver the accommodation. Poor accommodation obviously has knock-on effects for Traveller health. The latest health statistics show that Irish Traveller men live ten years less than settled men and that Traveller women live twelve years less than settled women.


AP: Traveller representatives have said that the power to build halting sites should be taken away from local authorities and decided centrally by the Dublin government. But will that not just encourage greater polarisation between Travellers and local communities? Is there a more imaginative way of implementing change?

MC: Over the last ``0 years, various different approaches have been tried. All failed miserably. Local government has been unwilling or unable to deliver the accommodation that is desperately needed.

Catholics in Northern Ireland were unable to get adequate housing until the establishment of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. Local councils deprived Catholics of adequate housing in Northern Ireland due to prejudice and sectarianism.

We see the establishment of an agency along the lines of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as the best hope for Traveller accommodation.

Residents' associations and local councillors will block Traveller accommodation on the basis of false fears and prejudice. The facts show that once Traveller accommodation is delivered, the problems that settled people expect don't materialise.


AP: What exactly should the authorities, north and south, be doing to change mindsets in relation to the Travelling community?

MC: We believe that politicians should be leading and shaping public opinion rather than reacting to it. Often politicians will use the race card to get voted in at elections or will make discriminatory remarks reflecting the views of their electorate. This should change and political parties need to bring in disciplinary measures to curtail their members who engage in racist activities or who indulge in incitement to hatred.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1