Ireland is riddled with “a great level of racism and hatred”, the Seanad has been told as the Government was urged to ensure proposed hate crime legislation will apply to public representatives and local authorities.
Independent Senator Eileen Flynn made the call as she also welcomed the media attention to criticism of public comments by a Fianna Fáil councillor last month who expressed opposition to plans by Galway City Council to accommodate members of the Traveller community in a house it bought in Renmore, a suburb of Galway city.
Former mayor Cllr Michael Crowe said on Galway Bay FM that Traveller culture was “not conducive to living with most settled communities. He also claimed “history has proven” that such a move led frequently to “confrontation and general uneasiness”.
Cllr Crowe later apologised for his remarks and Taoiseach Micheál Martin criticised them as “completely unacceptable” and “not at all” in line with Fianna Fáil policy. The party was taking the issue very seriously and would engage with the councillor, he said
Ms Flynn, a Traveller, thanked Fianna Fáil colleagues who told her “how disappointed they were to see this kind of behaviour”.
She added that “five or six years ago, we would not have had that media attention and that shows me our relationships are changing and we are changing”.
But she said “there is a great level of racism and hatred in this country, including online and especially towards the Traveller community.
“Unfortunately the racism towards our community has been normalised and there is a sense that it is okay because they are just the Travellers.”
She asked for Minister for Health McEntee to address the House “on where we are with good hate crime legislation that also stands for local authorities, county and city councillors, Deputies and Senators”.
Cllr Crowe had urged Galway City Council to expand the parameters of who could qualify for the house.
“I understand that everybody is entitled to a home and everybody is entitled to be housed, but I do not believe that putting members of the Travelling community into the heart of Renmore is conducive to either the occupants of the house themselves or indeed the local community,” he said in the interview.
“I’m not sure too many of the housing officials would like a Traveller family moving in beside them ... but yet it’s okay to foist it on other people. And I don’t believe that’s fair,” he added.
He subsequently apologised on Twitter and said “there is cut and thrust in politics but there is no room for the broad ranging sweeping generalisations I made about Travellers. For that, I am sorry.”