Sunday 17 December 2017

Hey Mr Fay: Do you know what you're doing to my family name?

Ronnie Fay is an embarrassment to Fays everywhere. The claptrap uttered by the Pavee Point chief is woodworm to my family tree, rotting its once proud reputation to the root. Unlike the many members and branches of the clan that have brought honour to the name (Morgan le Fay, Faye Dunaway, IFA, Nescafe), Ronnie is the blackest of black sheep -- a Fay worse than death.

The foregoing paragraph is, of course, nonsense. Worryingly, however, it's nonsense that follows the logic propounded by Ronnie Fay (no relation) and other self-styled spokespeople for the Travelling community.

Whenever an individual Traveller or group of Travellers is publicly criticised, a professional Pollyanna invariably emerges to take grievous offence on behalf of all Travellers, including the long dead and yet unborn.

Last week, Fay called for the resignation of Justice Seamus Hughes, a district court judge who made some injudicious comments about the Traveller propensity for violence. Martin Stokes, a 21-year-old from Kinnegad, had been fined €200 after pleading guilty to threatening a neighbour with arson. Like all too many of the judiciary's would-be Solomons, Justice Hughes seems over-fond of handing down sermons as well as sentences.

"Nobody has indicated it to me," said the judge, "but I suspect (Stokes) comes from a certain ethnic background that would give him even more form given the type of behaviour in which some of them engage . . . They are like Neanderthal men living in the long grass, abiding by the laws of the jungle."

The outburst was crude, inflammatory and, given the impartiality required of a judge, inappropriate, but the sentiments were hardly unfounded. There is no denying that the primitive doctrine of 'might is right' is accorded widespread credence by Travellers -- just look at how often we're told that Traveller affinity for bare-knuckle boxing stems from its traditional role in the "resolution" of family disputes.

Travellers are fiercely proud of their culture but most of the community's representatives are reluctant to admit that, like every human creation, it's a culture that involves unsavoury features. Rather than acknowledge such complexities, Fay went for the easy headlines, denouncing Justice Hughes for his "prehistoric mindset".

The fuss created by Traveller lobbyists over the judge's remarks contrasted sharply with their muted response to the vicious assault on Carlow publican Paddy Hogan. Hogan was bombarded with bottles and glasses when he tried to stop around a dozen apparently inebriated Travellers from entering his Tullow pub. Asked by journalists for a reaction to the story, Pavee Point's Martin Collins said the incident was "highly regrettable".

Pavee Point cannot be held responsible for a pack of marauding drunks. But if the organisation's leaders are not prepared to treat physical attacks by Travellers as seriously as they treat rhetorical attacks upon Travellers, they should have the good grace to keep their selective outrage to themselves.

Doublespeak is the curse of relations between the Travelling and settled communities, but it's a form of cant that's liberally spoken on both sides of the fence. It is unhelpful for the majority population to make sweeping criticisms of Travellers but it is equally unhelpful for Pavee Point and its ilk to blithely pretend that every complaint about Travellers is a groundless outpouring of visceral prejudice.

Viewing any diverse group of people as a homogeneous monolith is as absurd as expecting everybody who shares a surname to sing from the same hymn-sheet. We are all products of our culture and upbringing but we are also individuals, accountable for our own actions. Nobody deserves special treatment -- positive or negative -- because of the social or ethnic subgroup to which one belongs. Ties that bind should not be permitted to blind.

Indo Review

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