When it is not named, antigypsyism has the power to become normalised. In this way, antigypsyism creates and legitimises poverty, poor accommodation, poor health and poor education; “It inverts cause and effect.” (Alliance Against Antigypsyism, Antigypsyism – a reference paper, June 2017, 3)
Imagine where rubbish comprising of garden waste is dumped in an area where a transient Traveller trader stopped over and then the Local Authority takes funds to clean up the area from its budget for Traveller Accommodation. The logic appears to be “Travellers dumped the rubbish, so Travellers pay; and moreover, Travellers cannot ask for an Ethnic Identifier and then dispute this reasoning”. The argument appeals to common sense and would probably have broad support from the general public. It would be no surprise if such practices were found to be the normal response to such a situation. Some local representatives might champion the “indigenous Travellers” while supporting the work of the Local Authority staff who must find their way to manage the situation; and so the system operates and no-one voices an objection usually. However, Travellers are left behind as Strategies and Programmes fail to really improve the conditions in which they live; and the unsaid premise is “it must be their own fault”.
What the EU Parliament Says
As recently as 12th February 2019, the European Parliament passed a Resolution (2019/2509(RSP)) calling on the Commission and the Member States to step up the fight against antigypsyism. The Resolution calls for a stronger focus on antigypsyism and a specific goal on non-discrimination to be added to the goals of education, housing, employment and health. In addition, there is a call for a child-centred approach and the inclusion of a truth, recognition and reconciliation process. While recognising the limited progress in face of persistent concerns relating to accommodation and on-going poverty, the EU Parliamentarians called on Member States to put the fight against antigypsyism at the heart of their Strategies and to develop concrete actions to fight racist attacks and to promote equitable representation in the media, public institutions and political bodies. The European Network Against Racism welcomed “the Parliament’s commitment to ensuring that the future European Commission continues the work done so far on Roma issues at EU and national level”. What about the local level?
Do the normal processes of Local Authorities reflect a fight against antigypsyism by Local Representatives? Meanwhile RTE, the national broadcaster, reported in January 2019 that 25% of homeless children living in emergency accommodation outside of Dublin are Travellers, and 13% of homeless adults are from the Travelling community. As Ireland is preparing for European and Local elections to take place on 24th May 2019, fewer may realise that there is also an opportunity to make a submission to the Draft Traveller Accommodation Programmes which are prepared by Local Authorities by the following week. Perhaps though there is less of a fight against antigypsyism because we cannot see it.
How Antigypsyism Works
Eight circles of anti-Gypsyism (Jan Jařab, March 2015 unpublished) is the title of a paper prepared for ninth meeting of the European Roma Platform that unpacked the dynamics of antigypsyism.
Denial systematically undermines efforts to address antigypsyism, therefore Jařab proposes:
What we need here is to at least start a public discussion about overcoming denial, in a most non-accusatory way possible, admitting that we all have prejudices, and that we all need to be self-critical and start from ourselves.
Refocussing on a Logic for Change
Returning to the scenario at the beginning of this article, we might re-examine the logic employed. The Local Authority staff as its agents:
• Ignore the fact that the rubbish probably belongs to local residents;
• Do not ignore that the business belongs to a transient trader who Local Authority staff identify as a Traveller;
• Ignore the need for well-managed transient sites with suitable amenities for Traveller families on the move;
• Assert recognition of Traveller ethnicity and then deny a duty of care for any Traveller families other than “an indigenous Traveller” who has settled in the administrative area of the Local Authority;
• Ignore the fact that “indigenous Travellers” who have been counted for the purpose of the Traveller Accommodation Programme in the Local Authority administrative area are required to bear the liability for the disposal of the waste of others; and
• Ignore the fact that, in effect, the trader who left the rubbish and the local residents to whom the rubbish belongs, are facilitated.
The use of the “ethnic identifier” to penalise those who are identified by others as belonging to the same group is questionable. In applying the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) Action 146 to 149, the purpose of an ethnic identifier is:
• to promote equality;
• to combat racism and discrimination;
• to monitor progress of programmes and policies;
• to inform evidence-based policymaking;
• to identify barriers and issues for various groups in accessing and using services;
• to plan and deliver culturally inclusive services; and
• to feed information back to service users.
If we look again, it is reasonable to argue that the normal practice of the Local Authority resembles “ethnic profiling” for the purpose of applying a penalty which is justified by an appeal to the principle of the polluter pays. The laws and directives are concerned to prevent and remedy environmental damage but neither of the parties who produce the waste or dispose of it are penalised. Actually, such a mentality fails to protect the environment while the Traveller Accommodation Programme budget is spent but “indigenous” Travellers experience disservice and transient families are denied any amenities for their nomadic existence.
There is a way to see another way through these persistent obstacles. It requires Local Authority staff to go beyond the repetition of failed policies reflected in the copy and paste of paragraphs in successive unproductive Traveller Accommodation Programmes. There is an option beyond the apparent silence of Local representatives to “step up the fight against antigypsyism”. Jan Jařab recommended a way forward; to start a public discussion. As a part of the electioneering of #VoteEU2019 and #Vote2019, Local Representatives could reflect the commitments made by their EU colleagues. That commitment could be reflected in the Traveller Accommodation Programmes 2019-2024 by publishing within it a statement that commits the Local Authority to combat antigypsyism in order to deliver change. Such a statement could promote a better understanding of different aspects of antigypsyism throughout a Local Authority and how it operates in individuals and in systems. Perhaps it could develop into a truth, recognition and reconciliation process that builds trust with the Traveller and Roma communities in all Local Authorities.