Jesuit sociologist Fr Micheál Mac Gréil, SJ has published a report examining the ‘attitudes and prejudices of the Irish People towards the Travellers’ which includes a number of recommendations.

Launch – Address by Micheál Mac Gréil, S.J.

(Author and Director of Research)

This Report on the attitudes and prejudices of the Irish people towards Travellers is based on a national social survey (sample of 1,015) of adults in the Republic of Ireland between November 2007 and March 2008. The fieldwork was carried out by the ESRI, on commission. The questionnaire replicated questions from two major surveys carried out by the author in 1972-’73 (of Greater Dublin) and 1988-’89 (of the Republic of Ireland). The findings of the current Report, therefore, monitor the changes in public attitudes towards the Travelling People over a period of thirty-five years.

According to the 2006 Census Report there are 22,369 Travellers living in the Republic of Ireland. This represents 0.5% of the total population. The demographic profile of Travellers shows up serious evidence of deprivation, i.e. relatively shorter life-expectancy, relatively lower levels of educational achievement, and extremely high rates of unemployment (75%) when compared with the national population (9%), to take but three key indicators. That which makes these statistics more difficult to accept is the fact that they were in the 2006 Census Report when the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ was still at its height. This gives the lie to the belief that “when the tide of prosperity rises all boats float”! What we are witnessing here in relation to the Travellers is structural deprivation leading to the ‘culture of poverty’, which partly explains some of the objectionable deviance of a minority of Travellers. The State and local communities need to address this and adopt appropriate policies and strategies to correct it.

Another very serious issue which has frustrated leaders of the Travelling Community and others working closely with them has been the need for Travellers to be recognised as an ethnic group within Irish society, who have much to offer our country (once the culture of poverty and deprivation has been removed). Some 73% of respondents agreed that Travellers “should be facilitated to live their own way of life decently”. This requires a policy of integrated pluralism or pluralist co-existence in relation to the Travelling Community.

A policy of assimilation or absorption of Travelling People into the Settled Community seems to have underpinned public policy towards Travellers since the 1960s, i.e. ‘the settlement-of-Travellers’ policy’. Overall, this has not succeeded in integrating Travellers into Irish society. It is my personal opinion that the pluralist approach would elicit the support of Travellers themselves and benefit society enormously. It would give Travellers a stake in Irish society, which is something they do not have (or feel they have) at present from my experience or from Traveller literature.

The findings of the social distance scale are both positive and negative. In 2007-’08, 39.6% of respondents would welcome a member of the Travelling Community into the family through kinship. This marked a nominal improvement of 26.1% since the 1988-’89 national survey. Such improvement is substantial. Unfortunately, 18.2% would deny Travellers citizenship (i.e. 8.9% have as “visitors only” and 9.3% would “debar or deport” Travellers). This marked an increase (nominal) of 8.2% since 1988-’89. These results point to a growing polarisation of public attitudes towards Travellers, which can make things unpleasant for the minority. Hence, the need of courageous politicians and community leaders to champion the just cause of Travellers despite it being quite unpopular in certain quarters!

There is other evidence of strong prejudice against Travellers in the Report. For instance, 79.4% “would be reluctant to buy a house next door to a Traveller”, i.e. 39.9% strongly, 18.8% moderately and 20.7% slightly reluctant. This finding is indicative of a negative mood in Irish society to having Travellers in the immediate neighbourhood. Much work needs to be done in this area.

A more positive response was recorded in reply to the statement: “I would be willing to employ a Traveller”. Some 59.1% agreed with the statement, i.e. 22.9% strongly, 19.0% moderately and 17.0% slightly agreed. Again, it is necessary to improve these figures in order to get Travellers access to gainful employment. Both housing and employment are key elements in the emancipation of any minority. Thus, the importance of these findings.

Probably, the most encouraging of all the findings was in relation to the competence of a Traveller to be a member of a jury. When asked if they would “consider a Traveller competent to serve on a jury”, 73.2% agreed, i.e. 32.5% strongly, 21.7% moderately and 19.0% slightly agreed. It is very important that there should be Travellers on juries on issues relating to Irish society and in cases involving Travellers.

112 Recommendations

The above are examples of the findings which are reported in Emancipation of the Travelling People. Three of the twelve recommendations at the end of the Report are worth singling out at this stage. These are:

  • the removal of the culture of poverty and deprivation;
  • the recognition of the Travelling Community as a unique ethnic group within Irish society; and
  • the need of a comprehensive statutory commission to review public policy in relation to the emancipation of our Travelling People.

The other nine recommendations are considered necessary to bring about the desired change in the life of Travelling People and their relationship with members of the Settled Community.

Finally, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make it possible to present this Report today. I thank the Government for providing the financial resources which enabled the 2007-’08 national survey and the ESRI Survey Unit for executing the fieldwork (on commission). Special thanks are due to the research team: Fergal Rhatigan (Senior Research Officer), Maria Woulfe and Teresa Hunt (Secretarial and Administrative Assistants) for their diligent work in this and the other reports coming from the 2007-’08 national survey. Grateful thanks are due to Professor Seán Ó Riain, Department of Sociology, NUI Maynooth, to Chris Flood (a genuine friend of Travellers) for writing the Foreword and to Maolsheachlainn Ó Caollaí, member of the research committee, for chairing this meeting. Last, but by no means least, na h-Airí Pat Carey, TD, for launching the Report and Éamon Ó Cuív, TD for his support over the years for the research project. I hope and pray that this Report will contribute to the welfare of the Travelling People and the consequent enrichment of Irish society.

Go raibh maith agaibh.