On a summer’s day about twenty years ago, I was walking home from my friend’s house. A little Traveller kid of about maybe 7 or 8 was happily peddling around on his bicycle, but his day was about to get tragic.
From across the street a young boy who looked to be a year or two older came running out shouting “hey, hey, that’s my bike!!” and he ran at the startled looking kid who froze when the shouting boy grabbed a hold of the handlebars.
“That’s my bike, get off it!” shouted the angry boy.
“It’s mine,” said the young Traveller, “my brother gave it to me for my birthday,” he protested with a frightened expression.
“And your brother stole it from outside my house, didn’t he?” the angry kid roared.
At this moment the young child burst into floods of desperate tears as the older one continued to roar and wrestle the bike off of him.
I imagined that young boy waking up on his birthday getting this bicycle, his brother having no money to buy him anything but in his own way wanting to make his kid brother happy.
The devastation of the young child was palpable as one could imagine any child’s upon having their birthday present snatched from them.
In light of Presidential candidate Peter Casey’s comments I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Travellers in the last few days.
There are many social problems amongst Travellers such as dying younger and being more likely to commit suicide, or end up in prison. Their traditional way of life has become difficult for them in increasingly modern times.
The predicament of mother-of-seven Margaret Cash has been widely publicised recently. People have been venting rage that she gets benefits for her children when they are working hard and struggling.
Those children came into the world the same as any other and they didn’t choose to be welfare children. While it’s understandable that the taxpayer is pissed off that Ms Cash is getting social benefits for numerous children I wonder if they would rather see those children starve to death?
Ms Cash’s predicament is not an ideal one but it is what it is and I wonder how many would wish for her to have all her benefits canceled. Ultimately, her kids would be the ones that would suffer most and would likely be divided up and put into care. Would they be better off?
Peter Casey’s recent comments about Travellers not being, in his opinion, an ethnic group caused quite a media storm with many people calling him a racist and likening him to Donald Trump. There was a program on RTE a few years ago, called The Blood Of The Irish, which did DNA tests on Travellers and found that, on a genetic level, they are every bit as Irish as everyone else. This being the case then it would seem that their culture is what warrants their being identified as an ethnic group.
Having only returned to Ireland in the last year (he left his hometown of Derry many years ago due to dim prospects which he attributes to being Catholic), Peter Casey said he was not aware that Travellers had been recognised as an ethnic group. This, I suspect, is the case for a big portion of the country. Not a career politician, he is at considerable disadvantage in the Presidential Election since he would understandably not be aware of every single aspect of political acts, amendments etc. Compared to a career politician who is constantly engaged with the government, he is, in a political sense, like a kid who hasn’t been attending school since 1968, when compared to Michael D Higgins.
His declarations about Travellers have prompted nasty and dehumanizing comments about them, which can no doubt be deeply hurtful if you happen to be one. However, his fundamental point was that they are the same as the rest of us and while his comments have prompted outpourings of malicious comments, he has also highlighted deep social problems which I think is a very positive thing.
If he is elected President I would hope that he would continue to highlight the plight of Travellers so as to encourage them to become a cohesive and celebrated part of Ireland and its culture so as we can dispel the very dangerous “us” and “them” mindset. If they are part of “us” then that is surely a good thing? If you segregate and refer to “them” then surely that is dangerously divisive?
I’ll leave you now with the image of a young Traveller child who got the great present of a bicycle on his birthday, and his devastation when it was wrenched from his arms. The boy who wrenched it from this child was understandably angry, but imagine how any kid would feel if the best birthday present he ever got was taken from him.