Tag Archive for Travellers

No “Caravan of Love” for Connors in Donnybrook

Actor, Republican and filmmaker John Connors on the Late Late Show

This morning I re-watched the journalistic car crash that was the John Connors interview on Friday’s Late Late Show.

As John – an actor, Republican and filmmaker, who also happens to be a Traveller – went toe to toe, the interview quickly stopped being about John’s heritage or Ryan’s privilege, and instead became about those who weren’t there at all.

And it is in how we treat those who are not present that we learn where we are as a society in relation to our prejudices; Ireland may have made progress in recent years, but the conservative Catholic ethos still remains.

There is still a hierarchy, and it is slavishly adhered to by many in the media.

Take Paul Williams, a man who apparently told John Connors on film that as an ethnic group, Travellers bear a collective responsibility for criminality in their ranks.

Now in case you need it clarified for you, ascribing collective guilt is one of the oldest and most racist statements one can possibly make.

For instance, by that logic all Irish people bear responsibility for the campaign of bombing that tore through the British mainland in the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Which, of course, is nonsense.

By Williams’ racist logic we also bear responsibility for things like apartheid and the Crusades, given that the majority of Irish people are white and nominally Christian.

But John wasn’t even allowed to bring up what Williams said on the public record and why?

Because “he’s not here to defend himself.”

The same was then said of the local authorities that moved quickly to block the movement of any Travellers onto their land following the Carrickmines fire, in which ten people died.

Then, breathtakingly, Ryan asked John why publicans weren’t in a hurry to serve Travellers alcohol.

So the integrity of neither Williams nor local authorities may be questioned, but Ryan had no problem inferring that Travellers – who, let it be said, also weren’t there to defend themselves – are violent drunks.

Even John’s own experience of racism was questioned, as was his anger towards the system and the society that has not only allowed it to fester, but has in many cases actively encouraged it.

Here’s some of the tweets that were made on the Late Late hashtags during the interview – ranging from openly racist to simple, yet staggeringly ignorant, this is what Ryan believes John has little or no reason to be angry about.

In insinuating that Travellers as an ethnic group are violent drunks or criminals and that they deserve that reputation, Ryan is kowtowing to the racist logic of the sensationalist Williams, but of course, this cannot be discussed.

Because imagine if Williams did what Iona and John Waters and Breda O’Brien did when they were called homophobes by Rory O’Neill on the Saturday Night Show?

What if he sued? How much would it cost? What would that do to Ryan’s career?

Notice nobody asks what would happen if a Traveller sued, as in our society they are granted no standing. Williams can say what he likes – even if it’s racist, or even if it tars Sinn Féin’s voters as terrorists, for instance – but he cannot be called racist for making racist statements on the public record.

This is the legacy of Pantigate, it is what columnist (note: not journalist) Breda O’Brien, journalist and former member of the Broadcasting Authority John Waters and the Iona Institute in general, whose fear of homosexuality is the very definition of homophobia, have left us.

(As both are based on fear, being homophobic or racist are not necessarily bad things in themselves – it is the repression of and the imposition of one’s own values on others, and the denial of the rights of others that is reprehensible.)

Irish voters have in recent times indicated that they are abandoning the vicious, venal, hateful and judgemental attitudes fostered by the church and implemented for generations by politicians as they divided and conquered and created hierarchies that suited themselves.

But as yet the system itself has not changed – The Lads are still in control, and despite the fact that they are a minority, the likes of Iona still call the shots.

Every time they call the lawyers in, journalists jump and eventually they toe the line. When “they” are not there to defend themselves, the lawyers will do it for them, and as a result the questions can’t even be put.

Maybe John and the family of those who died in Carrickmines should call the Iona lawyers and see what can be done about the imposition of collective guilt and responsibility on Travellers, or Muslims, or Africans, or anyone else.

My guess is very little.

Irish media doesn’t tell the truth to power.

Instead, cowed by the fear of legal proceedings, it restricts itself to telling the truth that power wants people to hear.

 

A fight that will last more than three rounds

The offending tweet from Herb Street.

It was the stark, casual, easy laziness of our return to racism that was so disappointing, and yet so predictable.

Moments before, John Joe Nevin had fought himself to  a standstill in an effort to deliver another Olympic gold medal for his country.

An honourable silver later and you would have thought the red carpet would be rolled out from Dublin airport to Mullingar.

Instead,  whoever controls the Twitter account of the Herb Street restaurant in Dublin decided to put Nevin back in his place.

In a single tweet (see image), he and his family were just another bunch of thieving Travellers.

It wasn’t a case of Nevin going from hero to zero – he simply returned to where he and his people have always been for many in  Irish society.

Then came the defence of Herb Street – first the operator of the account tried (laughably) to claim that “a prat” had taken his or her phone and posted the now-deleted “joke”.

It’s the online equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”.

Then other Twitter users started to ask what the big deal was – it was only a joke. And of course they were right – it was ‘only’ a joke.

But here’s the big deal- it wasn’t a joke furtively shared amongst friends in a pub, an aside soon forgotten.

It was a very, very public joke, and in very bad taste, in front of an audience of thousands during the biggest sporting event on the planet,  perpetuating one of the most damaging prejudices about the Travelling people, from the account of what was previously a reputable business in Dublin.

That was the big deal.

Many seemingly failed to grasp that fact, and more defences came.

“Travellers aren’t politically correct themselves.”

It doesn’t matter.

“You never see any gay or divorced or handicapped travellers.”

That doesn’t matter either.

“It’s just a joke- hardly the crime of the century.”

Again, it doesn’t matter.

The joke was wrong. Denying making it was wrong.  Not apologising properly was – and is – wrong.

It took thirteen hours for a lame effort at an apology to be made – with no acceptance of responsibility, or no explanation of how the tweet came to be sent.

Now I know (or used to know) a lot of Travellers back in Dublin. I know how annoying and abrasive and aggressive some of them can be.

I know that some can be violent, and I know that there are Travellers involved in criminal behaviour.

I’ve run into them on several occasions here in Sweden too, and it hasn’t often been a positive experience.

But I also know good, decent Travelling people who frown on all that, who see the value of education and integration and wrestle with their traditions and their instincts as they strive to give their families a better future.

I know of people heartbroken when their children come home with more tales of how they were barred from shops or called ‘dirty knackers’ by passers-by for no reason.

I know of the families who encourage the John Joes of this world to work hard and look after themselves, who fill them with pride and desire to do well for their families, their people, their country.

I know how they struggle with those who – on both sides – say that there is no point, because they’ll never be allowed in.

We’ll never let them in. We will never accept them.

Instead, we’ll let them represent our country, and then when we’re done with them we’ll go back to the old ways and make jokes denigrating them.

Maybe, thanks to some idiot at Herb Street, now is the time to start the dialogue needed, but I doubt it can happen.

The issue of Travellers in Ireland and England is usually enough to have otherwise reasonable people reaching for arguments they would never use in a discussion about Muslims or Africans or Jews, but somehow it’s OK when it’s “our own.”

Maybe Herb Street can make it up to John Joe and his family by telling them the truth about how the tweet came to be posted, and what they’re doing about it.

Then maybe they could put the kettle on and invite us all over to discuss how his success in the boxing ring as part of Team Ireland could be translated into other areas of society.

I just hope their food isn’t as tasteless as their jokes, and that it doesn’t take thirteen hours to get something resembling service – or a proper answer.