Why a new anti-racism strategy is needed

 

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole’s article (Opinion, June 9th)echoed the hypocrisy of racism in Ireland today.

The court case referred to by Fintan O’Toole, was the first of its kind taken in Ireland, brought by the then Irish Traveller Movement Law Centre and dismissed at Killarney District Court by Judge James O’Connor as “there was a reasonable doubt that there had been intent to incite hatred against the Traveller community”. This despite “the accused, a 27-year-old Kerry man, who had created a Facebook page entitled “Promote the use of knacker babies for shark bait” suggesting “Instead of using animals for shark bait, they could use knack babies. Also, as food at feeding time in the zoo. And for testing new drugs for viruses.”

It was disheartening, when the grounds on which we set to right the wrongs of treatment for our community compared to the settled community, is so reduced, that trust in any institution, including the one designed for legal protection, fails to work.

Incredibly, over 600 members had willingly joined that Facebook page, many adding further insult and hate. The question then and now is: why the burden of proof is on the innocent, how much inhumanity must be present to claim offence and hatred, and who came to our assistance at what should have been a “stop moment”. Sadly, there have been many of those since.

We are seeing an increase in online hate campaigns targeted at Travellers and parts of modern mature Ireland are still languishing and need to recognise that racism towards Travellers is the last form of acceptable racism here.

Where else would it be acceptable to have campaigns preventing you living in an area, just because you are Traveller?

Where else would it be acceptable for towns to close when a family funeral is being held or to be denied access to hotels, pubs, restaurants and services at any time, just because you are Traveller?

Where else would it be acceptable that you are not employed, not able to rent a home, or be one of 2,000 families living in inadequate, unsafe and temporary conditions, just because you are Traveller?

Where else would it be acceptable for teachers to have such low expectations of your children that they don’t teach them the age-appropriate curriculum, reduce their school day or don’t enrol them in order to avoid being known as “the Traveller school”.

Where else would it be acceptable, that hate speech is directed to you in person and online, and just because you are born into a community as a Traveller, that it is not challenged or prosecuted?

We have all been outraged by the death in police custody in the US of George Floyd and by the ongoing responses, and we stand determined to demand that the racism is once and for all eradicated from society, not only in the United States but also at home.

We need to criminalise hate crime and hate speech, and introduce a national anti-racism strategy that names Travellers in Ireland to create new protection, which hasn’t been guaranteed to all citizens. – Yours, etc,

BERNARD JOYCE,

Director,

Irish Traveller Movement,

Dublin 2.