Monday 18 December 2017

Travellers don't need 'separation'

Separate ethnic status for Travellers echoes back to South Africa's apartheid regime, writes Emer O'Kelly

Emer O'Kelly

Travellers don't want to be discriminated against. But they're not going to solve the undeniable problem of discrimination by separating themselves from the mainstream.

That in itself is discrimination. Currently, there's a radio commercial running on RTE in which a young woman tells an indignant story of having been refused a restaurant booking for a celebratory lunch after her graduation. She was refused the booking because she was a Traveller. It's easy to imagine the sour taste of rejection, and the shadow cast over her pleasure in her achievement. Those kinds of nasty incidents need to be highlighted simply because they are frequent. If such things were isolated and occasional, well, tough. Everyone gets treated badly from time to time, because we're not living in a fair and perfect world.

But the real problem rears its head when discrimination is institutionalised, emotionally or socially; when it is part of a thought process and cultural attitude, directed deliberately against another group of people because of their race, colour, religion, or just the apparent strangeness of their way of life. If that way of life outrages universal tenets of human and civil rights, then we can justify abhorrence, even interference. If the group operates within our own society, and its way of life involves a deliberate flouting of the laws of the land, then we have the right to deny the group the "privileges" of following their chosen way. By doing that, we are not denying them their rights, we are merely asserting the universality of decent and humane codes of conduct.

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