Irish Travellers deserve our respect – just like any other ethnic group

(Above) #DontTeachHate short video from The Traveller Movement

I was very struck by this quote from Chris Baughurst of the Gypsy,Roma,Traveller Police Association (Thames Valley branch), speaking at the Green party Summer Gathering in Reading last Saturday:

We are the only ethnicity in this country where it is openly acceptable to denigrate us, people to say things, and no one bats an eyelid.

I recently dug through the Twitter archive relating to a recent event (which I will not specify, as it is now sub judice) and found over 100 separate incidents in the last week alone where Twitter users were (in arguable contravention of Twitter’s own rules) “abusive or harmful” in ‘directing hate towards a protected category’, in relation to Irish Travellers (a UK government registered ethnic group).

Most of the relevant tweets used a grossly derogatory word beginning with “p” or an abusive word beginning with “g” and ending in “o”. Some of the worst tweets combined those words with the word “scumbag”, the word “vermin” or a slang word for excrement. All made generalised remarks about the grouping and some expressed the view that drastic action should be taken against that group, in contravention of their basic human rights. (I have reported 90+ incidents to Twitter and I am now having to deal with a blizzard of emails from them asking for further information). The short video above gives even more graphic illustrations of such routine abuse, collated by the Traveller Movement.

Just like Chris Baughurst says, if such abuse was directed at any other ethnic group, then people would be generally appalled. Such abuse is not considered acceptable in polite society. So why does it go unremarked when it is directed at Irish Travellers? This is a totally unacceptable anomaly which needs to corrected.

We have a tradition of tolerance and politeness in the United Kingdom. We should extend that tolerance and politeness to all ethnic groups without exception.

We don’t normally make generalisations about groups based on the behaviour of one person or a few people. So we shouldn’t do it for the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller community. They have human rights too!

I am extremely proud that our own Party President Sal Brinton is Patron of the Traveller Movement, which promotes “the inclusion of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers through community engagement, advocating their human rights and leading on powerful research to shape policy.” Sal has, in particular, spoken about the importance of education in breaking down prejudice against GRT communities. In a foreword to the Traveller Movement report “The last acceptable form of racism?“, she wrote:

The pervasive discriminatory behaviour directed toward Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people is borne out of ignorance and is usually based on ill-informed cultural stereotypes. This lack of understanding or cultural awareness causes significant damage to the trust Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have in British society; and perhaps understandably leads to them withdrawing from the support and services they desperately need. This is precisely why education is so important. Prejudice and hate is not a characteristic we are born with: it is a learned behaviour. The most powerful tool to combating prejudice in this regard is to ensure children understand and are taught about GRT culture and people.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • nigel hunter 22nd Aug '19 - 10:46am

    Irish Travellers have been the butt of abuse for a long time. People who are’ different from us’ seem to be targetted although they are just as human as everybody else. They have families,need a house,job etc .They are no different F.ear of the other abounds. Their are criminal . .or boisterous people in ALL societies. Unfortunately the problems give fuel to the papers to spread hate, fear further. Oh! it also gives them sales so that the millionaire owners who do not live in the country or pay taxes live in luxury.

  • John Barrett 22nd Aug '19 - 10:52am

    When a quote like the one at the start of this article from a spokesman is used, it implies that it is a fact, but while I understand there is a serious problem, and the examples given confirm the scale of the problem on Twitter, I don’t think the quote is actually true in other walks of life..

    When he says “We are the only ethnicity in this country where it is openly acceptable to denigrate us, people to say things, and no one bats an eyelid” It implies that this is generally the case and that nobody is bothered by such remarks.

    I am sure most people, if not everyone, in the party would not stand idly by when anyone made such offensive remarks and this will also be true in many other settings.

    As someone who does not use Twitter, I agree entirely that the anonymity provided on social media allows hate to spread on a scale that was hard to imagine many years ago and that it must be stopped.

  • clive english 22nd Aug '19 - 3:04pm

    Racism is appalling and needs to be challenged. However not all accusations are true whilst it is a very small minority there ARE some people in this community who are behaving very badly and have been using accusations of racism to try and prevent any action being taken. I am aware of councillors on my own Council who have received death threats, and have ben accused of racism for simply trying to do their jobs, ironically often for defending other members of the traveller or Gypsy Communities from these individuals.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 22nd Aug '19 - 4:07pm

    As with David Essex, himself of part Irish Gypsy heritage, and for many years he was Patron of the Gypsy Council, the efforts of Sal, as often, are helpful.

    This is a really good article from Paul. There is too much linking identity or ethnicity, on this issue, with activity and irresponsibility. The one does not automatically fit with the other, being, is not behaviour. We, all of us as a party that sees individuals not as only groups, must gt our society, a collectivist notion too often, away from, group think. Where there are problems, of criminal or civil offence, these are no more or less common than in other communities or individuals doing wrong or causing harm.

    Paul has , in this, as do I here today already also, alerted us to the anger and upset often unjustified, on social media.

    There is a real and horrible rise in antisemitism. We know that there was a regime who once, with its evil treatment of Jewish victims, carried out similar crimes against the Roma, traveller, and Gypsy peoples too..

    Hatred leads to the abyss…

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