Friday, December 29, 2006

Batting for the batless

This is largely a rehash of some earlier blogs but I've reproduced it here as it's published today in the Irish Times. I wasn't expecting them to publish such a long letter so I'm pleased to see it in print.


Madam, - During the recent Traveller Focus Week The Irish Times carried a number of challenging items regarding travellers. Since then, the outcome of the Padraig Nally case has, perhaps, served to obscure the fundamental issues which still require resolution.

Felim O'Rourke (Opinion & Analysis, December 4th) presented a cogent argument that nomadism is a major contributory factor to Travellers' social exclusion and criminality.
Brid O'Brien, policy officer with Pavee Point, responded by pointing out that there are countless examples of Travellers living in standard and mixed housing for generations who were excluded from local jobs, education, training and social activities. Meanwhile, Lorna Siggins reported on a Galway Traveller Movement study which found that Travellers were so used to discrimination that they rarely complained.

The 1995 Task Force on the Travelling Community recommended the provision of 3,100 units of additional Traveller accommodation. This was to include 2,200 Traveller-specific units of accommodation (halting sites and group housing units). The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998 was subsequently enacted in order to ensure provision of Traveller-specific accommodation by local authorities. The 1998 Act also specifies that provision should be made by local authorities for Travellers' annual patterns of movement.

In its January 2005 submission to the UN's Committee for Eradication of Racial Discrimination, the Geneva-based NGO Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions reported that progress in the provision of the traveller-specific housing was wholly inadequate. Together with a very significant number of evictions of travellers by gardaĆ­, under Section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992 and Section 24 of the 2002 "Trespass Act", this had resulted in an intolerable situation for travellers and one where the Government of Ireland was in breach of its obligation under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

It is difficult to make any compelling case in support of nomadism, in terms of providing appropriate quality of life opportunities for Travellers, but I believe that Felim O'Rourke failed to address the current nature of that nomadism and the impact it might have on issues such as criminality. Much traveller nomadism is now involuntary - travellers are moved on by gardaĆ­ at 24 hours' notice, evicted under Section 10 of the 1992 Housing Act or Section 24 of the 2002 "Trespass Act". These evictions occur despite the fact that often there is nowhere for these families to go. Surely such evictions must severely disrupt any prospect of children receiving an education, diminish family access to services such as health and social welfare and mar any prospect of employment in the legal economy?

It would be very hard to argue with Brid O'Brien's contention that settled travellers are still treated as pariahs in Irish society, or with the inference of the Galway Traveller Movement finding regarding discrimination: it is routine and ubiquitous. In such circumstances, which of us would be model citizens or ideal neighbours?

All members of society have both rights and obligations. We, the settled community, have clearly failed in our obligations to provide appropriate accommodation, as identified by the 1995 Task Force on The Travelling Community. Yet we demand that Travellers meet their obligations to a society that treats them as pariahs.

Surely natural justice places the greater onus on the strong to first deliver on their obligations, before making demands on the weak? Only then can we justly adopt anything like a zero tolerance approach.

I, too, would like to see an end to nomadism and a concerted effort to normalise the life outcomes for travellers, but blaming the patient for being ill isn't going to achieve much.
National and local government has failed to provide the necessary leadership and NIMBYism has meant that accommodation needs identified over 10 years ago have still not been provided, despite our much-vaunted economic prosperity. The current situation is not only grossly unjust to Travellers; it is not working for the settled community either.

Where is the political leadership on this important issue? - Yours, etc,

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