Conn Mac Gabhann details the shocking normalcy of anti-traveller rhetoric
Conn Mac Gabhann is the Manager of the traveller project at the Irish Chaplaincy in Britain.
When my mother came to England in the 1950s to work as a nurse, the signs on the boarding houses said ‘No Blacks, No Irish.’ She described it as normal.
You couldn’t get away with putting up signs like that now.
I was wrong. And I was wrong on two counts. Firstly, because there are people stupid enough to put up the signs. Secondly, because I assumed that the police and the CPS would pursue these people under race relations legislation.
Before Christmas, I was walking up through a back street in north London when I noticed a pub that had a sign that read ‘Travellers strictly by appointment only.’
I thought it was a mistake, so the next day I went back to the pub with my colleague Joe. The signs were there alright – three of them making it clear that Travellers weren’t wanted.
Even though I’ve heard a lot of racism towards Travellers, I was surprised that in multi-cultural London a sign like that could remain in the open for some time. We took photos and reported the sign to the police, who promised they would investigate.
I went to the police station and made a long statement, stressing the seriousness of the crime. I made the point that such racist incidences prevent Travellers from getting legal work and getting on with their lives.
I stated that when there are signs like that it’s not surprising that many Travellers in prison point to discrimination in schools and society as one factor that put them on the path to offending.
I stressed that, like everybody else, Travellers have a responsibility for their own actions. But I added that whenever Travellers as a group are singled out for unfair treatment it just means this section of society feel unjustly treated. Then everybody loses.
It is in the interests of the police and society that they pursue these cases of discrimination, otherwise Travellers will rightly feel aggrieved and disconnected.
Yesterday, I received a phone call from Islington Police Station. The CPS have decided not to pursue any action against the pub.
The next time I’m in a prison and a young man whispers to me that at school he had to stand on a chair in assembly while he was called a ‘dirty gypo,’ I’ll think, like my mother, that that’s normal.
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