At the end of Easter 2016 week I feel somewhat 1916-ed out. I spent the week watching Insurrection, the wonderful day by day series about the 1916 Rising produced and directed by my late husband Louis for RTE in 1966 and which was re-broadcast for the first time only this year, fifty years after it was made. I also attended exhibitions and other events, and strolled the festive streets of Dublin. Despite the attempts by our right wing (non) government to write out the revolutionary Rising leaders in favour of reformers such as O’Connell, Parnell, Redmond and Grattan, Dublin did itself proud, with streets festooned with flags and shop windows, from banks to souvenir shops, displaying copies of the 1916 Proclamation and pictures of the 1916 leaders.
Historians encouraged us to remember not only the Rising, but also colonial violence and the fact that Ireland was the first small nation to rise against the British Empire. The events made me reflect on the revolutionary zeal of the republican and socialist leaders of the insurrection and wonder what Ireland would have looked like had they not been executed by the British.
The celebrations made me reflect on post 1916 Ireland, left to De Valera, who kept the island divided and collaborated with the Catholic hierarchy to create a reactionary, priest-ridden, anti-women, pro property owners and anti-foreigners Ireland. Read more
On July 9 1943, during the Holocaust, when, though Jewish people were cremated in their millions by Nazi Germany, the Irish state allowed only a tiny number of Jewish refugees into Ireland, Oliver J Flanagan TD made his maiden speech in the Dáil: ‘There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money‘. The House, shamefully, did not react.
Seventy years later, his son, Charlie Flanagan TD pens an article in the Irish Times arguing against the campaign to grant Travellers the status of an ethnic group. Travellers, he claims, are just like other groups in Irish society: farmers, Gaeltacht people, Kerry people and, yes, Jewish people, the same Jewish people his father wanted to rout out of Ireland. While acknowledging Travellers’ disadvantage, and while ‘significant progress has been made’ in improving their condition, designating them as a separate ethnic group is dangerous, he insists, as this will weaken their position and – heaven forbid – lead to members not regarding themselves as ‘being Irish at all’.
The article met with a wall of silence. No letters to the paper, very little on social networks, until Brigid Quilligan’s excellent article a week later. The ethnic group debate has been raging for a long time now, particularly since Justice Minister Michael McDowell withdrew funding from the Citizen Traveller project, declaring Travellers are not a separate ethnic group. Read more
I was privileged to speak at the Irish Traveller Movement 2012 AGM. Travellers have campaigned for recognition as an ethnic group for years and the state’s refusal in 2003 to recognise them as such after years of government attempts to settle and assimilate Travellers was a major setback, because it deprives them of a coherent platform from which to conduct an antiracism campaign.
My argument is that although there is plenty of individual racism against Travellers, from local councils to local residents who do not want Travellers to be accommodated near them, the chief offender is the state. In attempting to settle Travellers, in not providing sufficient halting sites, in prohibiting camping on public or private grounds, in not supporting Travellers in seeking second and third level education, and in denying Traveller ethnicity, the Irish state racialises Travellers as a group apart. Read more