Irish travellers scapegoated

Its power for the course for the mainstream media, politicians and their lackeys to make a career out of criminalisation and scapegoating of minorities.

Submitted by Steven. on December 21, 2005

In Ireland if a scapegoat is needed all too often Travellers are made to fit the bill.

One of the most deprived and discriminated against ethnic groups in our society, to such an extent that Travellers are regularly barred from shops and pubs. Even people who believe that they are not racist, and some who see themselves as anti-racist, seem struck blind when it comes to attitudes to, discrimination against and attacks on the way of life of Travellers.

As stated by the Irish Traveller Movement, Travellers are an indigenous minority who, historical sources confirm, have been part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers long shared history, cultural values, language, customs and traditions make them a self-defined group, and one which is recognisable and distinct. Their culture and way of life, of which nomadism is an important factor, distinguishes them from the sedentary (settled) population.

To this day Travellers only account for about around 0.5% of the national population (25,000). The mortality rate for Traveller children up to the age of 10 is 10 times that for the population as a whole. Overall the life expectancy of Travellers is around 20% lower than the general population. Only 10% of the Traveller population are over 40 years of age and only 1% are aged over 65.

Travellers are eight times more likely to live in overcrowded conditions in comparison with the general population in Northern Ireland. Many still have extremely limited access to basic amenities such as running water, electricity and sanitation, including some of those living on serviced sites. Only 11% are in paid employment of one form or another, whilst 70% of those who are economically active have had no paid work in the last ten years.

In the south, legislation has been passed to protect the rights and freedoms of travellers in terms of the Equal Status Act meanwhile the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 only requires local authorities (councils) to set targets for providing accommodation and the criminalisation of Travellers has intensified. Section 21 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2002, which criminalises trespass on public and private land, has caused great hardship to many Travellers. This Act allows for the Garda to move Travellers with no notice on foot of a complaint by the local authority. This has lead to local authorities evading their responsibilities and calling in the cops to evict Travellers as a result. According to the Irish Traveller Movement,

“Between 1995 and 2002 only 129 new halting site bays were provided out of the 2,200 units needed. In 2003, 1,000 families still live on the roadside without access to basic services such as water and toilets.”

In 2000 approximately 500 families in the south were served with eviction notices without being offered alternative accommodation. The evictions of families can be described as,
“The removal of families against their will from land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection.”

Before serving an ASBO on two members of the Travelling community the Mayor of Larne said its purpose was to “get these people moving and keep them moving”.

The treatment of Travellers is just another example the role of government in ensuring uniformity and conformity while actively engaging in and promoting discrimination and criminalisation.

The Irish Traveller Movement website can be accessed at:


From the pages of Working Class Resistance, magazine of Organise! now available at: