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Fianna Fáil TD claims settled people are inflicting ‘apartheid’ on the Traveller community

The Fianna Fáil TD for Galway West, Éamon Ó Cuív, has endorsed the view that the majority of the settled population is guilty of systematically inflicting ‘apartheid’ on members of the Travelling community.  

Deputy Ó Cuív made his remarks during a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community.

The Committee had been convened to continue its hearings on the subject of access to housing and accommodation, including Traveller-specific accommodation.

The Galway West TD’s allegations arose after Dr Rosaleen McDonagh, a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission asked both him and her fellow IHREC member Dr Sinead Gibney to clarify how they understood and used the word ‘apartheid’:

“Can I ask for clarification from Ms Gibney and Deputy Ó Cuív? When they use the word “apartheid”, are they talking about racism or something else that I do not understand? I would prefer if people used the word “racism”. It is what we know as

Travellers. I am just wondering if that is what Ms Gibney and Deputy Ó Cuív meant?

In response to Dr McDonagh, Deputy Ó Cuív stated:

“When I talk about apartheid, I am talking about how settled communities separate themselves from Travellers. In other words, and to go back on the figures I gave, settled people do not want Travellers living next door, marrying into their families and so on. That is what apartheid is. It is the settled people who manifest apartheid because they do not want friendships and so on with Travellers. It is a manifestation and outworking of racism because racism leads to that kind of apartheid.

It was the heading of a chapter in Fr. Mícheál Mac Gréil’s big book, Pluralism and Diversity in Ireland. When we read the results, it is interesting to note that Fr. Mac Gréil’s was not far from the truth. He titled the chapter, The Travelling People — Ireland’s Apartheid. He meant the shame was on the settled community for the apartheid that it operates in a subtle way against Travellers. Does that explain it? ”

The figures referred to by Deputy Ó Cuív, which he had outlined to the Committee prior to Dr McDonagh’s question referred to a Behaviour & Attitudes survey launched in 2017 which showed that just 9% of settled people will accept kinship with a Traveller, 13.8% will accept friendship with a Traveller, 8.3% will accept a Traveller living next door to them, 8% will accept a Traveller as a co-worker. The figures also found that 18% believe that Travellers should not have citizenship and 9% believe they should be deported.

According to Deputy Ó Cuív, this demonstrates the scale of the prejudice against Travellers within the settled community as well as the challenges facing human rights bodies whose mission is try and to vindicate Traveller rights.

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