Sir, - Well-intended discussion of the Traveller problem can lead to no solution while the Irish State remains fanatically centralist and opposed to cultural pluralism. This prevents formal recognition of cultural minorities and the devolution to them of appropriate self-governing powers.
The most notable instance hitherto has been the Gaeltacht. There the problem was the maintenance of that group of Irish-speaking communities. When Gaeltacht spokesmen 30 years ago made clear that the prerequisite for doing this was regional self-government, successive Irish governments refused this. The result has been the continued shrinking of the Irish-speaking communities almost to vanishing point.
In the Travellers' case, the problem is bad relations between the settled majority and the Travellers. This has been caused by some Travellers behaving in ways which the settled people find offensive, and by the latter tarring all Travellers with the same brush. The solution lies in the Traveller community taking responsibility for the behaviour of its members, and acting so as to prevent and punish behaviour which the settled people and the majority of Travellers find offensive.
This would require the election of a Travellers' representative council, its recognition by the State and the allocation to it of policing powers. For minor offences, the Traveller police would impose fines, and for major offences deliver the perpetrators or suspects to the gardai.
Obviously, Traveller rules enforced by Traveller police could suppress offence to settled people more effectively than the present arrangements. Improved relations between settled people and Travellers would result from that. But even before that, the visible fact of the Travelling community taking responsibility for Traveller behaviour would win respect for Travellers. By becoming collectively self-responsible, they would acquire the dignity which they now lack and which is their due.
I spell out this solution to the problem in order to make clear that there is a solution, and that the problem is not caused by some endemic wickedness of either settled people or Travellers. It is caused, rather, by a rigid, anti-pluralist system of government which, though changeable, is not likely to change. - Yours, etc.,
Desmond Fennell, Dublin 7.