The myth that Traveller origins can be dated to the famine was dealt a death blow early in February when a genetics study on Irish Travellers revealed that they split from the main Irish population approximately 360 years ago. This provided more proof that Travellers, while Irish, were still a distinct ethnic group within the wider Irish population. Something not yet provided for in law.
In November 2016, the Taoiseach Enda Kenny committed himself to supporting the recognition of Irish Travellers as an ethnic minority group in the Republic of Ireland. David Stanton, the justice minister was appointed to compile a report. On January 2017, this report was delivered by the Joint committee on Justice and Equality which remarked;
“The noble opponents of international crimes are so oblivious to domestic ones.”
“Travellers are, de facto, a separate ethnic group. This is not a gift to be bestowed upon them, but a fact the State ought to formally acknowledge, preferably by way of a statement by the Taoiseach to Dáil Eireann.”
As Fine Gael carried out their leadership coup and the countless Irish liberals cried heavens about Enda Kenny’s visit to America, very few took note of the problems of Irish people.
“A concern for global problems which they cannot impact takes precedence over issues in which they could promote positive change.”
While they rightfully, if feebly, protest Trump’s contempt and disdain for minority groups, people happily ignore the issues of Irish Travellers. A concern for global problems which they cannot impact takes precedence over issues in which they could promote positive change.
This is not to denigrate the value of solidarity movements and protesting global injustices, yet when they come in the place of effecting local change in their own country, one should show practicality. Irish society is plagued by the mass transportation of a social justice movement, that takes most of its issue from America, casting aside domestic issues to one side.
Rallies about Standing Rock, Trump and complaining about police brutality are noble but ineffectual. The noble opponents of international crimes are so oblivious to domestic ones.
Who speaks out?
“Travellers are Irish just like the rest of us, despite the quite obvious observation that the settled community sees Travellers as different.”
Irish Travellers have suffered systemic state discrimination since the formation of the Irish free state and later the Republic, from the Commission on Itinerary in 1963 to politicians calling for Traveller free areas. Yet which liberals speak out?
Sinn Féin in recent years has been the only major party to push the issue consistently in the Republic, proposing a motion to recognise ethnicity in November 2015, which was rejected. A party which many love to hate, usually for its links in the past to the IRA and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, is striking in its call for Traveller ethnicity, a policy unlikely to win them much electoral support. Yet while many point out their dubious past, few take care to notice their support for this. Meanwhile Fine Gael, the party which rejected the motion in 2015, is set to quietly bring it into law soon. No protest has been given at the delay since then or at its rejection to begin with. When billions condemn Trump for his hate against minority groups, who condemned the Irish state when it failed to pass the motion in 2015?
“Sinn Féin […] is striking in its call for Traveller ethnicity, a policy unlikely to win them much electoral support.”
Irish liberals, both in colleges and elsewhere, have been remarkably silent on the issue of Irish Travellers. Is it because they believe that things like these don’t happen in Ireland? Or that Travellers are Irish just like the rest of us, despite the quite obvious observation that the settled community sees Travellers as different. Perhaps it is indifference.
Whatever the case may be, it is not wrong to suggest a certain hypocrisy resides in liberalism in Ireland today. While many bewail the Trump presidency, precious few raise an eyebrow or comment on the plight of Irish Travellers, a group who have a life expectancy far shorter than the settled community, a suicide rate many times larger, and who are routinely attacked by any self-respecting tabloid.
For those liberals and champions of social justice, in Trinity and elsewhere, who see little wrong in the long delay regarding Traveller ethnic recognition; you may be many things but liberals you are not.