The online creeps were at it again last week — they never miss an opportunity to express their hatred for Travellers. And the Tallaght tragedy provided that.
Attacking Travellers is a hallowed tradition among sections of the settled community, I’m afraid. And there are worse things than socially inadequate creeps going online anonymously to spit insults at people they don’t know.
More than 50 years ago, a prominent Fine Gael TD from Louth — Paddy Donegan — was convicted of firing a shotgun at Travellers. He opened fire because he didn’t want them in his area.
Mr Donegan was charged and brought to court where he was sentenced to three years in jail.
Ah, no, sure I’m only kidding. He got a £20 fine.
The good old days, yeah? When a man of substance could make his point with both barrels and rely on a nod and a wink from the judge.
Mind you, if the Travellers fired back, they’d have gone to jail for decades.
Shooting at Travellers didn’t harm Mr Donegan’s political career. Just over three years later, Fine Gael (“the law and order party”) made him minister for defence (I’m guessing they chose defence because he knew so much about shotguns).
In that position, Mr Donegan disgraced himself, his party and his government.
In the period since then, the political establishment hasn’t found it necessary to take up arms against the Travelling community. No need for shotguns when you can manipulate national and local budgets.
The shotgun episode occurred in the period when the settled community had decided to fix “the Traveller problem”.
The solution was obvious. Get them to give up that oul’ travelling lark and settle down like the rest of us. We would “assimilate” them.
Soon they’d be just like us, in all our perfection.
The government set up a commission to organise this — made up of civil servants, gardaí, farmers, priests and judges. Not a single Traveller.
It didn’t work. Imagine that.
Turns out the Travellers have a history going back at least 600 years, and the travelling thing isn’t just a hobby — it’s as innate to their culture as house-hunting is to mine.
Two quite different cultures — the settled community and the Travellers — share the same space. Inevitably, there is friction, with enough blame to share all round. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but for the persistent aggression of my own community.
It’s hardly an equal contest. Travellers are about 0.7pc of the population. The settled culture is 99.3pc.
There are three levels of aggression.
Let’s deal first with the creeps. Their activities last week were feeble compared with their conduct in October 2015 after the Carrickmines fire. Ten Travellers died in that. As the Travellers’ site burned, the online comments mounted.
We won’t quote any of the foul comments, we’ll just mention two decent comments.
Each comment on the site had a “like” and a “dislike” button. At one stage, 645 people liked a simple “rest in peace” comment. But 268 people went out of their way to express dislike of that.
One person said they prayed that “none of the fatalities are children”. And 415 people “liked” it. However, 259 disliked that prayer. They got their wish — five of the dead were children.
The settled community has within it a sizeable minority of disturbed people.
Meanwhile, before the Carrickmines funerals, local settled people mounted a picket. They opposed a council plan to move the survivors of the fire to a nearby site. They hid their faces from the cameras. As well they might.
The second level of settled community aggression is financial.
A human rights commission last year reported on council spending on accommodation. It found that “between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6m) was drawn down”.
In short, local politicians and officials ensured that €58m allocated for the accommodation of Travellers was left unspent.
It might be comforting to think this kind of behaviour is reserved for petty local councillors.
Pavee Point, the Travellers’ action group, published a report on the years of austerity imposed when the State took on the private debts of the bankers.
Over the period 2008-2013, government spending covering all of us was cut by 4.3pc.
The spending on Traveller health was cut by 82pc.
Accommodation spending by 64pc.
FAS, the training board, had its allocation for Travellers cut by 60pc.
The third level of settled community aggression is political.
The clearest expression of this came in Peter Casey’s run for the presidency in 2018. His campaign was weak (his most impressive innovation was a video of himself smacking golf balls into the sea). He was at 2pc in the polls.
Then he decided to “start a conversation” about Travellers. He got 23pc of the vote.
Michael D Higgins won with 55pc.
With a massive 342,727 votes, Casey saw himself as the coming man. He immediately announced he was “becoming a Fianna Fáil TD with a view to becoming Taoiseach”.
He stood in the 2020 general election and ended up 11th of 13 candidates.
Certain types of people liked him, but only when he “had a conversation” about Travellers.
Politicians of a certain kind had it emphasised for them — the cheapest route to drawing a certain kind of support was to start a certain kind of “conversation” about Travellers.
Every Traveller, of course, is expected to bear responsibility for the actions of every other Traveller.
What any Traveller does today is deemed to be what every Traveller might do tomorrow.
When the Kinahans kill a Hutch, or vice versa, swarms of Travellers don’t block streets in Dublin’s inner city, demanding the residents explain why they’ve let this happen.
When GAA fans coming from Croke Park piss in people’s gardens, no one demands an apology from John Kiely.
But if a Traveller in Galway so much as farts in an over-energetic manner, Travellers in Roscommon better have an explanation ready, along with an apology.
Nobody’s mental health could remain unaffected by the persistent, systematic denigration that Travellers are subjected to by random settled people, by ambitious politicians
looking for “a conversation” and by the manipulation of budgets to undercut hope.
Pavee Point: “There is a high rate of mental health illness and suicide within the community, with suicide the cause of 11pc of all Traveller deaths.”
The suicide rate for Traveller women is six times higher than settled women and is seven times higher for Traveller men. There have been child suicides.
We are not equal — Travellers and the settled people.
We of the settled community vastly outnumber them.
Our legitimacy as humans is not constantly under attack. Politicians fear our displeasure.
Bigotry against Travellers is tolerated while other traditional aggressions have been ruled unacceptable.
This won’t be fixed by Travellers alone — they haven’t the clout. It won’t be fixed by politicians, they haven’t the courage.
Until 1990, men could legally rape their wives, and when men beat their wives, guards and judges looked the other way — what happened within a marriage was considered nobody else’s business.
Before the killing of Declan Flynn, in 1982, when anger flared as the killers walked free, the law wasn’t too pushed about the murder of gay men.
Women and gays organised and put on pressure and things changed.
They needed the support of the wider community to do it.