Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Still Travelling

Following my email to Brenda Power regarding her opinion piece in the Sunday Times and their subsequent publication of a heavily abridged version of that email on their letters page, I followed this up with another email to her - basically my blog of 18th Dec 2006 titled “We were travellers too”.
Brenda has responded today - her email is reproduced below. I thought her original article was repellent and her email merely confirms her prejudices. Nevertheless, I’ve responded in a way I think appropriate.

Hello Peter, thanks for your very thoughtful email - I take your point entirely about the Irish who emigrated to Britain in tougher times, and the fact that they were travellers, too, but the distinction I would make is that those people went there prepared to work and work damn hard to make a living - they didn't arrive and start making demands and enquiries about their rights and entitlements, getting involved in crime and laying waste to public amenities and then blaming it all on their culture. I am sure that there are settled travellers who experience discrimination, but the question is whose fault is that, exactly? I really do believe that the travellers spokespeople began to condemn the bad, criminal behaviour, and to isolate those responsible from the very many law-abiding travellers who are willing to work hard and get on with their neighbours, those same people wouldn't encounter nearly as much prejudice and suspicion as they do. Until they start isolating the bad apples, rather than championing their case and claiming the behaviour is part of their culture, they can hardly be surprised if they all get tarred with the same brush. Thanks again, and happy new year, Brenda Power

My response, emailed to her today:

I’m sure you’re familiar with the expression “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” which is much favoured by politicians. They’re generally much better at the first bit than the second, where they're usually hopeless as solutions are invariably complex, multi-faceted, intergenerational and expensive. And frequently fail.

We’ve obviously been listening to different traveller spokespeople - the ones I hear do condemn the criminal elements, but they try in vain to have the “tough on the causes of crime” agenda discussed at the same time. Is this perhaps what you interpret as “ claiming the behaviour is part of their culture”?

Have you ever considered why nationalist communities in Northern Ireland didn’t hand over IRA killers to the RUC? Because they hated the RUC and they rightly feared the IRA. The gardai are the people who routinely “move on” travellers under threat of confiscation of
their homes and vehicles, knowing full well that they’re simply moving the problem down the road to someone else’s patch but causing maximum disruption to a traveller family. How likely is it that this activity will foster a culture where non-criminal travellers will co-operate with the gardai?

Until we start offering them better choices than “f*** off and die” or perhaps involuntary sterilisation to stop them breeding large families in their caravans, we condemn them to live in squalor and largely outside legal society.

The purpose of my email was to illustrate that it took a couple of generations to “socialise” many of us, the settled community. It can be done, but not by some quick-fix solution or simply getting the gardai to crack down on travellers.

Until prominent commentators like yourself start balancing your condemnations with proposed solutions e.g. calling on National & Local Govt to meet agreed obligations to provide them with
accommodation (there are still approx 1,000 families with none) and calling on employers to actively recruit members of the travelling community, and recognising that this will be a long haul, there will be no solution. There’s a challenge for you!

And finally, remember the pre-Christmas concern for travellers from Heathrow delayed by fog, which dominated the airwaves last week? How ironic that concern must have sounded to the permanent traveller listening to the radio in a caravan while keeping an eye out for the
garda car and the warning to "move on"? Happy Christmas, me arse.

Regards, etc..

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