Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community

Traveller Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. Thomas McCann:

What has been created by the State is social distance. There has been an othering of Travellers in this country for generations, reinforced by very negative stereotypes. We were talking about schools. People have talked about their experiences in some schools. I went to an all-Traveller school initially.

I did not learn a huge amount. In other schools, people had experiences, just on the basis they were Travellers, where there were separate classes and different play times. There has been an unwritten apartheid in this country for a long time. We talk about apartheid in South Africa. I remember Kader Asmal supporting the anti-apartheid movement here. Many people were involved in this here, yet they did not recognise the apartheid taking place in Ireland every day. This still goes on in some places but is not recognised, however. It is there. The settled community knows it is there but it is unspoken. It is not addressed but we have to address it.

We spoke about voices earlier. We do not have that political representation. At the local level, around accommodation, there is resistance even when there is a major housing crisis. I do not want to bring up stuff but when some Travellers were in a major accommodation crisis, people came out against them when they needed that support. That represents something in the Irish attitude towards Travellers. That has been in the psyche of the Irish community for a long time. The consequences and effects of this structural deep inequality and racism that has taken place for generations are what we are dealing with here today. This needs to be addressed at several different levels, as people have said. At the structural level, it needs to be addressed by the State in ensuring that it changes. If it does not change, individual programmes here and there will just be sticking plasters while the structural issues are not addressed.