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Irish Left Archive

Dated term for Irish Travellers

"In the final analysis whatever the hypocritical mouthings of our "pillars of society" about aid to people overseas, it is on their treatment of the poor, the [Travellers] and the working class at home that they must be judged."

A 1976 article from The Bottom Dog, "working class paper of North Munster", by Jim MacNamara on an example of open hostility to Irish Travellers from a local Urban Councillor.

An article from The Bottom Dog headlined: O'Meara and Itinerants, and showing a cut out of a Nenagh Guardian article titled: Mr O'Meara hits at itinerants' sympathisrs [sic]
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Irish Left Archive

From 1998, an article from the Workers' Solidarity Movement paper, Anarchist News, on anti-Traveller racism.

The issue is available on our website here:

Anarchist News, No. 17 (1998) — Workers' Solidarity Movement

Irish Left Archive

Few groups or individuals on the left in Ireland understand that the situation of Travellers was until recently the most explicit form of racism in this country. Because Travellers are white, people have difficulty recognising discrimination against them as racism. Travellers are subjected to the most extreme forms of social exclusion and segregation which can only be described as apartheid.

They are refused service in pubs, cafes, many shops, launderettes, hairdressers, discos, hotels, cinemas and even some doctors refuse to serve them.

At school many Traveller children are taught in totally segregated classes which cater for Traveller children of all ages in the one class. Officially this is done to provide them with a service that respects their nomadic culture. In reality nothing could be further from the truth, which is that it is done in order to discriminate against them more efficiently.

Racism is a particular form of domination, exploitation and exclusion. Racism against Travellers and Gypsies is rooted in an ideology of sedentarist superiority. This is the belief that the settled person’s way of life is the modern norm and that nomadism is a throwback to less civilised times.

Nomadic people also pose a threat to the values of property ownership and the accumulation of possessions. Racism involves power domination by one group over the other. Because Travellers are such a small minority of the population (0.5% approx) they are totally at the mercy of the settled population. The effects of this racism and exclusion can be graphically seen in the health statistics of the Traveller population.

Traveller infants have three times the infant mortality rate of the settled population. Traveller women have a life expectancy that is fifteen years less than their settled counterparts and Traveller men's life expectancy is ten years less than settled men's. They don’t fare any better educationally. Only a handful of Traveller children have made it through second level education and there are still only a tiny number of Travellers nationwide who have completed a third level course.

About 80% of the adult population are illiterate and still only about 70% of the primary school age children get to school. Some schools still refuse to take them. These are the statistics of racism… a group of the population whose health and educational standards are at least 50 years behind that of the rest of the population. Bu the official response to these kinds of statistics is to blame this scandalous situation on Travellers themselves and on their preferred nomadic lifestyle.

Racism against Gypsies and Travellers goes back to the time they started migrating from India around the 11th century. It reached its height with the extermination of a quarter of a million Gypsies and Travellers by the Nazis. In Ireland the racism against Travellers is so deep and so all pervasive that few people even recognise it for what it is. In the fight against this racism Travellers themselves and their organisations need to be centrally involved.

They must set the agenda, deciding on what issues and how they want to fight. They need the active support of the left, and especially of the trade union movement because they have very little muscle on their own. There have been attempts over the past thirty years at Traveller self-organisation but these organisations were quickly smashed by the state.

In 1963 the Gardaí planted explosives on Gratton Puxon, the organiser of the Irish Traveller Community which was becoming a force to be reckoned with. Nearly twenty years later they planted stolen jewellery on Nan Joyce, a leading member of the Traveller-only organisation Mincéir Misli. Nan ran against a racist candidate in Tallaght in the General Election of 1982 and got twice the number of votes as he did. For left wing activists concerned about racism there is plenty of it to fight in relation to Travellers.