On July 9 1943, during the Holocaust, when, though Jewish people were cremated in their millions by Nazi Germany, the Irish state allowed only a tiny number of Jewish refugees into Ireland, Oliver J Flanagan TD made his maiden speech in the Dáil: ‘There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are there is the honey, and where the Jews are there is the money‘. The House, shamefully, did not react.
Seventy years later, his son, Charlie Flanagan TD pens an article in the Irish Times arguing against the campaign to grant Travellers the status of an ethnic group. Travellers, he claims, are just like other groups in Irish society: farmers, Gaeltacht people, Kerry people and, yes, Jewish people, the same Jewish people his father wanted to rout out of Ireland. While acknowledging Travellers’ disadvantage, and while ‘significant progress has been made’ in improving their condition, designating them as a separate ethnic group is dangerous, he insists, as this will weaken their position and – heaven forbid – lead to members not regarding themselves as ‘being Irish at all’.
The article met with a wall of silence. No letters to the paper, very little on social networks, until Brigid Quilligan’s excellent article a week later. The ethnic group debate has been raging for a long time now, particularly since Justice Minister Michael McDowell withdrew funding from the Citizen Traveller project, declaring Travellers are not a separate ethnic group. Continue reading “Travellers’ ethnic status – again”