As the week began, I was under the mistaken impression we had identified the least impressive individual in Irish political life: Fine Gael Councillor Maurice Dockrell.
Dockrell made an ass of himself — and his party — by casually slagging the thousands who marched last weekend in the cost-of-living protest.
As the week moved on, Dockrell did not become any more impressive, except in comparison with another local politician with a loose mouth — Fianna Fáil Councillor Michael Crowe, from Galway.
Crowe went on radio and made insulting remarks about Travellers.
The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, rushed to close down the controversy. And Crowe immediately made what he called a “sincere genuine apology” for his insults.
It was all about covering FF’s backside. The implication of what Crowe actually said was ignored. And that may be a threat to public safety.
There’s history between Galway and the Traveller community — a shameful one.
Open Google and type in Annie Furey Traveller. When it comes up, watch the RTÉ archive footage from 1970, when Mrs Furey moved into the house allocated to her in Shantalla, Galway, and you’ll see a carnival of bigotry.
She was a dignified woman; her life wasn’t easy. She just wanted somewhere to live and she couldn’t understand why people who didn’t know her were displaying such hate.
Look at the children in the footage. Yes, the adults brought their kids with them, to enjoy the fun.
The kids were delighted to be out late, waving at the RTÉ camera. They were getting lessons in hate. Later, when Mrs Furey’s furniture arrived at the house, the crowd grew frantic and threw stones.
They attacked the RTÉ crew, trying to grab their equipment. They didn’t want any record of their behaviour. Gardaí had to rescue the RTÉ people and protect their gear.
It was too dangerous to shoot film as stones rained down on the house. Mrs Furey had to retreat into the back of the house to escape injury after a stone came through a front window. This went on until 3am.
Next day, RTÉ asked local people what Annie Furey did to make them reject her presence. One man tried to explain: “It’s not fair to put her in with the respectable people.”
Somehow this dignified woman, aiming only to raise her children, became — with no reason given — an untouchable.
And the settled community, who engaged in violence and taught hatred to their children, became “the respectable people”.
To stand reality on its head in this way requires a seriously unhinged view of right and wrong.
This was the old Ireland, grim and unyielding and cowardly. They rejected Travellers but tolerated the horrors perpetrated by Church and State.
Let’s not go through the litany of events in which Travellers seeking to settle down were rejected. However, it should be said that there were many examples of Travellers settling down alongside neighbours who didn’t make a fuss, and by and by there was nothing to make a fuss about.
Recently, the local authorities in Galway allocated a house in Renmore to a Traveller family.
And last week Crowe announced he had “great concern” about this. He went on local radio to be heard insulting Travellers. I won’t repeat the insults. Crowe made a big thing — as all these people do — of the community not being “consulted”.
Who is ever consulted about who may be allowed to move in next door? The answer, of course, is: no one.
Every day of the week, someone moves out of somewhere and after a short while someone else moves in. No one consults anyone.
If the incoming neighbour next door has screaming babies, or plays the drums or the bagpipes, if they have very loud sex or they happen to be Foster and Allen fans, that’s your hard luck.
And no one is idiotic enough to suggest it should be otherwise.
Except when it’s applied to Travellers. Then, people bring up the nonsense about how they should have been consulted.
Imagine someone trying to apply that to Jews. “If you’re allowing Jews to live here you should at least consult me beforehand.” It would be seen as foul, cretinous, evil.
And foul, cretinous and evil is what it is when it’s applied to Travellers.
Crowe claimed to be standing up against those who are “politically correct”. It seems that unless you insult someone for something — their background, skin colour, height, any bloody thing — you’re somehow lacking in... what?
I don’t know. That’s a political position that sneers at people who don’t gratuitously insult other people.
Why did Crowe attack Travellers he doesn’t know? No idea, I’m not a psychiatrist. But I know politicians are always nervous about their seats.
And Crowe has the example of Noel Grealish TD. The polls before the 2020 general election suggested Grealish’s Galway seat was in danger. Grealish made comments about African immigrants in a section of the constituency. The Irish Times reported the consequence: “His comments... saw him triple his support there from 200 first-preference votes to 600 votes.”
Why did Micheál Martin rush to smack down Michael Crowe?
Well, that kind of remark can improve a candidate’s vote. But Grealish was a single Independent. Fianna Fáil has candidates in dozens of constituencies, each of which has a solid minority of people who reject anti-Traveller bigotry. If a party is caught playing that game, those people will vote for someone else.
This can mean several party candidates around the country missing out on seats by a couple of hundred votes.
Crowe’s anti-Traveller remarks seemed heartfelt (“I’m totally against this”). Yet he immediately succumbed to pressure from the Taoiseach. Either way, Crowe doesn’t come out of this very well.
Here’s the worrying bit.
The radio interviewer mentioned to Crowe a house in Carnmore that in August 2020 “went on fire by itself or whatever”.
That house had been due to be occupied by a Traveller family.
Crowe said he wanted to “put on the public record” that: “I met with some of the residents there at that time. They outlined their position and I went to the housing officials on that occasion — like I did on this occasion — I told the housing officials that that was a bad idea and it wasn’t going to end well — and that’s what happened.”
Crowe spoke then of the house in Renmore allocated to a Traveller family. “I’ve repeated the position with the housing officials in the last number of days. I think that this is a bad idea. I don’t want the same result.”
So, a public representative, in 2020, talked with residents in Carnmore angry that they’d have to share the air with a Traveller family.
And, on the basis of this, he went to housing officials and said this would not end well. And the house went up in flames.
Two years later, the same public representative talked with residents in Renmore angry they’ll have to share the air with a Traveller family. And, on the basis of this, he went to housing officials, believing the two circumstances could be equated, and asked them to “put a pause on this”.
It seems Crowe is worried about hotheads. It could be he got the wrong impression from someone. Perhaps there’s nothing to worry about.
But, if there’s another mysterious fire and the police have not found out whom Crowe spoke with and what exactly they said, and if necessary put those people under surveillance, perhaps some undercover work...
Well, that would be awkward.