It’s time Ireland embrace traveller culture, says Aileen Donegan
I AM looking forward to Traveller Pride events this year so I can learn more about the community and stand in solidarity with them. Sometimes Irish people forget that we share the country with people from many different backgrounds, identities and traditions – and by exploring and embracing this diversity we can become richer citizens.
Unfortunately, the Travelling community has a bad reputation in Éirinn. This is the case for two reasons that I can see: because the media does not do enough to highlight the positive attributes of Ireland’s only indigenous group, and there are people out there who do not question what they read.
From the abusive terms settled people use when we’re referring to Travellers, to how we justifying discrimination against the community because we mistakenly believe all Travellers do not ‘want to be involved’ in the settled community – it’s time for Ireland to wake up and respond and respect the fact that different cultures exist on the Island and that is not a bad thing – regardless of their level of involvement or not.
Last year’s horrific reportage of young Roma children being taken away from their parents for not looking Roma enough is case in point. It was an embarrassment to me as a working journalist and an affront to Irish society that that story was left unchallenged until too late. Globally, we were rightly castigated for being so malicious. Yet thankfully this event highlights the convincing reason why we’ve got to change our attitudes toward non-settled people.
And this is why awards and festivities surrounding this year’s Traveller Pride is such an important and worthwhile event.
One of the best things I’ve been to this year was a training course in Budapest on combating antigypsyism – that controversial word that for some is positive, for others not so. For three days myself and 15 other young activists from across Europe gathered to discuss the intolerance that is faced by minority groups in all our neighbouring countries, most specifically for Romani people and Travellers in Ireland and the UK.
What I like about Traveller Pride is its unapologetic openness – it is, frankly, time Ireland show some pride to travellers by standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder against hate. My work actively involves raising awareness of such issues – I’m an activist on the No Hate Speech Movement and I’m currently working with the National Youth Council of Ireland to promote tolerance for Travellers at national level.
We would love to see more Traveller activists and members among our little anti-hate community – if for nothing else than to get to know more about the Traveller way of life. Do join us if you feel the same way. I can’t wait to be a part of Traveller Pride and I hope it brings more positivity and awareness to all citizens in Ireland about the identity and customs of our indigenous friends.
You can follow Aileen on Twitter @aileendonegan.