Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sunday Times Traveller

On Sunday 10th December, Brenda Power published an incendiary piece in the Sunday Times under the headline ”Travellers ludicrous and selfish lifestyle”. She more or less accused them of breeding like rats and you could take the inference from her article that some sort of involuntary contraception/sterilisation programme might be part of the solution. She basically wants them to f*** off, but to where she didn’t say.

That day, I sent her a long email, mainly a slightly modified version of my Dec 5th blog “Travellers - Moving on?”, prefaced by the following intro paragraph:

"Brenda, I thought your piece in today’s Sunday Times was provocative to the point of being bad tempered rabble-rousing, which surprised me because I‘ve always found you thoughtful and balanced on radio & tv. The question I’m left asking is this: who is Felim O’Rourke and what are his credentials on this sensitive topic and, frankly, what are yours to justify production of such an inflammatory piece? "

Subsequently I was contacted by the Sunday Times to know would I be willing to allow a heavily abridged version (space constraints on the letters page etc) be published. I agreed and the following letter is published today under the heading “Help Them First”.

Power attacks the “ludicrous and selfish lifestyle” of travellers, despite the fact that much traveller nomadism is now involuntary. They are moved on at 24 hours notice by the gardai, evicted (under Section 10 of the 1992 Housing Act or Section 24 of the 2002 “trespass act”) despite the fact that there is often nowhere for them to go. Such evictions must also severely disrupt education, access to services such as health and social welfare, or employment.

We, the settled community, have clearly failed in our obligations to provide appropriate accommodation, identified by the 1995 Task Force on The Travelling Community. Yet Power demands that travellers meet their obligations to a society that treats them as pariahs. Surely natural justice places the greater onus on the strong to deliver on their obligations first, 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.

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