Monday 18 December 2017

Travellers remain on the edge of society

When we hear 'Traveller', we still think dirt and violence, despite the millions given to the 'Help the Travellers' industry, says Willie Kealy

WE started off with a downtrodden group of disenfranchised people who were the same as the rest of us but different, in that they lived in tents and caravans and travelled around the country, especially in summertime. They were also different in that they were illiterate, poverty-stricken, tolerated terrible conditions and were prone to illness and alcohol abuse and had a relatively short life expectancy.

Since the late Victor Bewley first campaigned for the rights of Itinerants -- as they were then known, having discarded the then more accurate but deemed demeaning title of Tinkers -- they have been at the heart of social debate in this country, and frequently a focus of political discussion.

But as the rest of the country gradually became more prosperous, the lot of the Traveller -- Itinerant was also discarded as this group sought to claim they were of different ethnicity to the rest of us -- began to see changes in what was available to them. They were offered halting sites and, for those who wanted them, small houses were built. They were encouraged to send their children to school and, more importantly, to keep them there all year round.

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