Irish Travellers' leader warns of a direct action campaign to come
‘We are changing our approach in that we are becoming more radical’
Irish Travellers Movement protest against evictions.
Travellers are set “to come more into conflict with the State than we ever have before”, the head of the Irish Traveller Movement told a conference in London yesterday.
“We were very docile for a number of years, sitting at the table and trying to negotiate,” said Brigid Quilligan, who sharply criticised cuts in Traveller services. Local authorities believed to be discriminating against Travellers will face 1980s-style “direct action” protests by up to 150 Travellers, she said.
Her warning came at the annual meeting of the Traveller Movement in Britain, which represents Irish Travellers, gypsies and Roma.
“We are changing our approach in that we are becoming more radical. That puts us in a dangerous situation. I feel we are being true to Travellers. If something bad happens to them we are not sitting down and having tea and biscuits with the people that are inflicting that pain on them,” she said.
Saying that Travellers in Ireland are at “a critical point”, Ms Quilligan said suicide numbers are seven times higher among Travellers than among the settled community.
“I see them delving into serious depression – depending on prescription drugs, alcohol, illegal drugs. I feel I am becoming more marginalised and more disenfranchised,” she said.
Ireland’s equality legislation has been “nearly totally dismantled” over the last few years, she said. “It is very weakened at the moment. People feel that there is no strong equality voice. People feel that if you challenge too much your funding will be taken away from you, and that is a very dangerous position for a human rights organisation to be in.”
Forced not to help
Some Travellers working for community organisations are being forced not to help other members of their community on housing or education problems for fear that they are “going to upset” others.
In the past, up to €70 million was spent on providing Traveller accommodation, but that “still didn’t deliver” because “of a lack of implementation, lack of goodwill and racism”, she said. “Now our budget has been cut to nearly €4 million. We have been told that there are now no new units of accommodation being built for the next few years. All that will be done is repair and refurbishment.”
The Irish Traveller Movement intends to deepen its relations with the Roma community, and work more closely with its British counterpart, she said. Referring to the decision to take two Roma children into care recently, she said “the absolute discrimination and racism exercised by the Garda and the health service was shocking”.
One blonde-haired child was taken away from one family while black-haired children were left: “If there was a concern why didn’t they take all children?”