School told old statutes targeted Travellers


For centuries the perceived deviant nature of Traveller life has been firmly rooted in law, Mr Davy Joyce told the Burren Law School. Carol Coulter, Legal Affairs Correspondent reports.

Mr Joyce is the co-ordinator of the newly-formed Traveller Legal Unit, to be launched by the Irish Traveller Movement next month.

The unit will seek to address the situation of Travellers in all spheres of the legal, criminal and judicial system, and has just appointed a solicitor, he said.

The present atmosphere of hostility to Travellers had its roots in historical statutes which targeted Travellers, describing them as "peddlers, tinkers, counterfeit Egyptians or rogues."

This was mirrored in modern Irish law, and in October 1940 Mr Cogan TD asked the Minister for Justice if the was aware of the enormous increase "in the number of hawkers, tinkers and vagrants who are using the public roads as camping places", and if he intended to take steps to deal with it.

Over the past 30 years Travellers and their representative groups have campaigned for equality, and the introduction of the Employment Equality Act and the Equal Status Act were the most significant legal developments in this area.

However, he said there was a danger than lobbying against them could turn these into hollow law.

Mr Donal Toolin, a member of the Disability Consultative Group set up to advise on the new Disability Bill, said it was essential that it contain the right to legal mechanisms to ensure the implementation of rights when all else fails.

"Who are the people who hide behind judicial judgments to ensure that people's rights to have opportunities to participate in this State have been actively ignored?" he asked.

He added that the fact that last year's Disability Bill, which was withdrawn, prohibited access to the courts to enforce access to the rights contained in the Bill showed that the political system did not trust itself to deliver.

Ms Liz McManus, deputy leader of the Labour Party, said that the recent decision to give medical cards to everyone over 70 had the effect of giving doctors an incentive to move out of disadvantaged areas and into more middle-class areas.

This was because the beneficiaries were people from better-off backgrounds, and the Government negotiated a deal with the IMO where doctors treating them got four times what they got for treating the previous beneficiaries.

"This scheme now costs €50 million a year more than was estimated. What about getting a return for the health spend?" she asked.