JUST over two months ago, a special investigation into Traveller life in Clare was published by The Clare People with a very specific aim in mind — to start a conversation on a subject which has been largely ignored. Travellers are the figurative elephant in the room of Clare society.
Many people would have grown up here with an innate fear and scepticism of Travellers. It’s Us versus Them, realistically, and the longer this remains the status quo, the further their situation in society will deteriorate. How much longer can we function and grow as a society together unless more understanding is garnered?
Travellers — who account for just 0.6 per cent of the population — make up 22 per cent of the female prison population and 15 per cent of the male prison population. Just 13 per cent of Traveller children complete second-level education, compared to 92 per cent of the settled population. The suicide rate among Travellers is six times that of the rate in the general population. Homeless presentations among Travellers way outstrip the norm and the Traveller unemployment rate is a staggering 84 per cent.
What goes hand in hand with all this is the fact that Travellers are the most socially excluded and disadvantaged group in Ireland. So who’s to blame and who has the answers?
While contributing to the special investigation, I met a number of Travellers. My interactions with them were no different to meeting with a settled person — courteous and friendly. I was welcomed into their homes and offered tea. However I did notice that their stories garnered plenty of public interest.
One reader called after The Clare People published an article on a homeless Traveller family of seven, asking why wasn’t the father of that family getting up at 6am every morning to find work to provide for his family — just like the caller does. The caller didn’t allude to the fact that it was a Traveller family but what did give me food for thought was the fact that over the last year, I have covered a number of homelessness stories and this was the first one to receive a negative reaction from a reader.
More recently, over the last two weeks a number of illegal dumping incidents alleged to have involved Traveller families have been reported, and this week Fianna Fáil councillor Clare Colleran Molloy is calling on Clare County Council to prosecute those responsible. The public reaction has been overwhelming, with many congratulating this publication for highlighting the issue along with those who have accused us of treating the Traveller community unfairly.
I met a family who lived on the ‘Road to Nowhere’ earlier this year. They had no running water, no sanitation. A desperate scenario for anybody. That was reported in a 12-page investigation into the plight of Traveller life in Clare. Where was the public reaction then, negative or positive, you might ask? That’s because it didn’t exist. There also was a noticeable deficit of local politicians taking up that family’s cause so publicly, with the exception of Sinn Fein’s Mike McKee.
So the question remains; how can we help Travellers — or how can they help themselves — to nurture their children to avoid societal issues in their community such as crime, lack of education, lack of employment, homelessness, suicide?
Should the Travelling community take more responsibility for the reasons some people see fit to label them as ‘knackers’, a horrible word, or should society be less eager to generalise and discriminate against one group, or is it even as simple as that?
I believe there are a number of small steps which could be taken to begin a process of reparation. It doesn’t start in Clare, it has to start in Government. But Clare is one of the best and most typical examples in the country of what is happening with the Traveller population — feuding, depression, homelessness, lack of education.
One simple suggestion would be to call for a module on Traveller History and Culture to be introduced as mandatory in the primary school curriculum.
In America, Black History Month focuses on celebrating another marginalised group, African Americans, and their contributions to society.
Here, much emphasis is placed on improving Traveller education but a lot could be gained too by educating all children in mainstream schools about Travellers. Empower young Travellers, who too often feel isolated in Irish schools, and make settled children aware that role models from the Travelling community exist through education.
Either way, this is a conversation that must be had with a view to strengthening all community ties in our society, and improving the future of an impoverished people.

1 COMMENT

  1. Any group of human beings has good and bad in the mix. Chasing one another around roundabouts with hatchets, racing horses on the motorway, stabbing schoolchildren, threatening judges, murdering people on courthouse steps–well, anyone can make a simple mistake, right? It’s not like they starve their horses to death or engage in cockfights, bare-knuckle pugilism or dog fighting. Go way now. Give the people a break, will ya?

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