Perniciousness of racism and ableism in Ireland still continues

Let us remember that prescribing some human categories as unfit for full citizenship was a precursor to the Holocaust

"Injury to one is injury to all." These were the words of Ethel Brooks, Roma feminist and scholar, at Dublin Castle during the Bringing Human Rights Home for Travellers and Roma in Ireland conference.

Racism, coupled with ableism, usually infers people in need of fixing, with the apparatus of rehabilitation or assimilation. The management of a diverse reality and a pluralistic world view is deemed too problematic.

Lived reality tells us that where you have racism, you have poverty, and where you have poverty, you have disability and poor health.

Historically, connotations of ableism and racism prescribed certain human categories as unfit for full citizenship. This ideology was a precursor to the Holocaust. The programme of euthanasia, masquerading as medical procedures (known after the second World War as “T4”) authorised the killing of 200,000 adults and children with various impairments. These “mercy killings” included people with mental health and psychiatric conditions. “Useless eaters” and “burdensome lives” were the soundbites used to describe and rationalise ending the lives of people with impairments who were not considered economically productive.


Legacy of discrimination

For those of us who have impairments, and are from black and minority ethnic communities, the impact of implicit and explicit racism has no subtlety.

It's important to understand the legacy of discrimination across Europe. Three thousand members of the Roma community were gassed at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

During the 1970s and ’80s in Czechoslovakia, tens of thousands of Roma women were coercively sterilised to stop the “social risk” that Roma were deemed to pose by reducing what was termed their “unhealthy” birth rate.

In many European countries Roma children remain excluded from mainstream education. The history of Roma children being put into segregated special classrooms or schools, is similar to that of Irish Travellers during the 1970s, '80s and '90s. The interconnection between Roma ethnicity and Traveller identity has become more concrete due to various European platforms. It's important to remember these platforms were instrumental in ensuring Irish Travellers received official ethnic status.

There is a particular relationship between Roma and Travellers: our history of nomadism, distinct culture and strong identity associated with family networks. Distinguishing our community from the majority population. Unfortunately, we also share experiences of racism and discrimination.

January, 2018: Pavee Point Traveller and& Roma Centre, in partnership with the Department of Justice and the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission, launched the Roma Needs Assessment report – 93.3 per cent of respondents experienced discrimination when seeking accommodation in Ireland. Some 81.1 per cent reported having felt discriminated against in the street or in a public setting, especially women who wore traditional Roma dress.

Appalling conditions

Three examples of the appalling conditions Roma families are living in gives us some sense of the hardship they face living in Ireland. A Roma mother, living with a disability, is pregnant. She lives with a couple and is fearful to declare herself homeless. There is no gas or water in the house. The kitchen is empty except for a small table. There is no cooker or fridge. They have no food.

When people experience racism, it is an attack on human dignity. The lives of these Roma women give testimony to a hidden Ireland. A Roma woman with a chronic illness reported an incident that took place outside a supermarket in January 2017: a staff member threw a bucket of cold water over her. Ireland has not adopted the optional protocol for the UN Convention on the Rights to People with Disabilities, which would allow individuals to make complaints to the UN about their rights being infringed. The convention speaks directly to Travellers and Roma, with its focus on respect for diversity, commitment to support cultural identity and concerns about multiple discrimination.


The barriers to employment include the right to reside and habitual residence conditions – issues of inequality in the workplace, language and poor education opportunities. All these elements are already part of the fallout of particular types of racism. The application of the habitual residence condition and the “right to reside” test is having an extremely negative impact on Roma living in Ireland.

December 3rd is International Day for Persons with Disabilities and August 2nd is Roma Holocaust Memorial Day. These two dates are integral to our history and memory. The intersectional dimension of ableism and racism has left a devastating narrative.

While honouring the lives of all who were murdered in the Holocaust, we must remain mindful that the perniciousness of racism and ableism still continues.

Platform Series: Rosaleen McDonagh
1) He'd look for a kiss from his gypsy girl
2) Perniciousness of racism and ableism
3) Life should be about living, not existing
4) The disabled spoil the presentation
5) When will there be an official apology?
6) Theatre access for those with a disability
7) Believing disabled sexual assault victims
8) Marginalising disabled feminists
9) Use your vote for change