How my Autistic Traveller son is changing the world

By Rose Mairie Maughan.

Before I had my son, as a Traveller activist, I thought I was good person, a good human rights activist in solidarity with all struggles – but there was one I could have been more supportive and aware of; that is, the Autistic struggle. 

Before he was diagnosed I thought I knew what being Autistic meant but in reality I actually knew very little. After we got his diagnosis, I learned a great deal about being Autistic from reading and training – but the real learning came from my son and the wider Autistic community.

I learned that autism is a neurological difference impacting on how an Autistic person sees, feels and responds to the world and how they communicate. My little boy taught me what being Autistic really means and opened my eyes to the Autistic struggle, which has many similarities to our struggle as Travellers.

For example, the Autistic community suffers social exclusion; lack of acceptance and understanding; discrimination while trying to obtain employment and services; they are often viewed as ‘broken people that need to be fixed’ and are forced to live in a world that is not sensitive to their needs as Autistic people. 

Some Autistic children suffer serious abuse, are abandoned to the care system and even killed simply because they are Autistic, misunderstood or not accepted by their parents. Some parents search endlessly for a ‘cure’, but there is no cure because autism is not a disease.

Autistic children are bullied, and currently there are hundreds of Autistic children across Ireland and the UK with no school place for next September. Most are waiting for vital therapy and some are on waiting lists for up two years in many parts of Ireland. Just like us Travellers, due to this oppression and lack of acceptance, the Autistic community has a high suicide rate of nine times higher and a life expectancy of 54 years, something that is seldom talked about and needs to be addressed.

Once my eyes were opened up to this struggle for acceptance and human rights, my heart broke for the Autistic community and for my son – not because they are Autistic but because of the abuse, discrimination and oppression they are forced to endure.

Comrades: Evaleen Whelton, Autistic activist from AUsome Ireland, and Rosemarie Maughan, activist and ally 

As a part of my journey of learning about autism, I knew that I had to try help as an ally, not just to create a better future for my son but for all Autistic Traveller children and the wider Autistic community. I noticed many more Traveller children being diagnosed with autism but as a community we were not talking about it or the issues these children and their families were facing.

I started to think: where are the Traveller Autistic adults? How come I had never met one? Surely there are Autistic Traveller people who have struggled through life without a diagnosis or suitable support? That’s when I decided I had to create more awareness and acceptance within our own community. I wanted to start the discussion as a community.

Since his diagnosis, I have been creating awareness mainly through social media as I am on a career break at present. After spending many years working within Traveller organisations, I am now focusing on investing in my son’s development. Recently I started a blog inviting in Autistic voices to educate us on what being Autistic means and how it impacts their lives, as they are the experts – not me, and not professionals. All too often marginalised groups, such as my own, are the subject of studies but are left out of the conversation and this was something I did not want to practice myself. 

Utilising the information gleaned from my consultations with Traveller parents, Autistic Traveller adults and the Autistic community, I gave a presentation on ‘hearing the Traveller Autistic voice’ to the Seanad on July 9, 2019, which was the first time these voices and experiences were ever mentioned in terms of Traveller policy.

I am ashamed to say that if my son hadn’t opened up my eyes to the Autistic struggle, I may not be doing what I am now, working as an ally to Autistic Travellers and the wider Autistic community. Many Travellers and Autistic people thank me but really the thanks must go to my son as he is the reason for the positive change occurring within our community in terms of us talking about being Autistic, and Traveller Autistic issues being named and discussed in the Seanad for the first time ever. He is the reason for the growing collective action between Travellers and the Autistic community; for bridges being built between our communities; and for a greater awareness and acceptance within our community. What a massive achievement for a little boy of six years old! 

The most important lesson I have Iearned from the Autistic community is that it is their preference to be referred to as Autistic rather than as ‘having autism’. This excellent video explains the reasoning perfectly and I would urge everyone to watch it; words really do matter and the way that we use them has an enormous an impact on the way that Autistic people are viewed.

If people are referred to as ‘having autism’, then autism itself will always be viewed as a disease, an illness, something that can and ought to be fixed – as though Autistic people are in some way deficient. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Autism is a part of a person’s identity, much as my ethnicity as a Traveller is a part of mine and should therefore be viewed as such. Unless and until this happens, then disgusting and dangerous practices such as forcing Autistic people to drink bleach and Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) ‘therapy’ will continue to be promoted.

I was shocked and appalled upon discovering that Autistic people are continuously forced to defend their existence and their legitimacy by lobbying for the end of these extremely dangerous ‘cures’ for Autism. There is a growing movement of Autistic people and allies protesting the use of MMS bleach, where parents actually force their children to ingest bleach, a truly horrific practice by anybody’s standards.

This bleach is banned in Ireland; however, it is still being used and promoted, primarily online. Unfortunately, under the guise of ‘free speech’, a promoter of this abhorrent practice has been invited to speak at a two-day event in Waterford in November. While they may choose not to speak about this particular, well-documented view of autism at the event itself, their presence is nonetheless very distressing for the Autistic community and its allies. Free speech is one thing; promoting misinformation and pseudo-scientific quackery that is physically damaging to Autistic children is quite another. 

The Autistic community are also calling for the end to the extremely damaging ABA therapy, which is nothing short of conversion therapy, trying to make the Autistic child ‘less Autistic’. Unfortunately although a lot of today’s therapies claim not  to be ABA, the principles are the same, attempting to alter certain Autistic features such as increasing eye contact, which Autistic adults will tell you is very difficult to do at times and actually not necessary for effective communication. Many people listen better and process what is being said without having to give eye contact.

If we continue to force people to undergo harmful practices and to change fundamental aspects of their being in order for the rest of us to feel more comfortable, then we’re not only letting the Autistic community down, we are letting ourselves down. As with other minority communities, it is up to us to learn from Autistic people how we can challenge what we think we know about autism and adapt ourselves accordingly. 

Below are links to Autistic led groups, blogs and pages where you can learn what I have learned. I hope you listen to the Autistic community and, like me, become an ally to them standing in solidarity and supporting the rising of the Traveller Autistic Voice

Rose Mairie Maughan is a human rights activist working within the Irish Traveller Movement since 2004.  Follow her blog here.

Informative links: 

Konfident Kidz

Facebook group: Irish Travellers in solidarity with the Autistic community

An autistic person’s view of the anti-vax movement

The ableist history of the puzzle piece symbol for autism

Hashtag: #TravellerAndAutisticCommunitySolidarity.

Denmark passes landmark consent-based rape laws

By Lisbeth Latham.

Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance or Enhedslisten (United List) announced on July 14 that the governing Social Democrats and Social Liberals parties in Denmark’s Parliament had agreed to pass consent-based rape laws. This follows an agreement to support the new laws made by the Conservatives and Liberal parties in March. The announcement marks a significant and further step in shifting Scandinavian rape laws away from being based on violence and coercion and towards questions of consent.

As the Red Green Alliance statement said: “sex without consent isn’t sex”.

The Red Green Alliance had unsuccessfully sought to change Denmark’s legislation in November 2018, when the then governing Conservatives, Liberals and Liberal Alliance parties had refused to back the change supported by all of Denmark’s left and centre-left parties. The changes will define sex without explicit consent as rape. In doing so Denmark becomes just the 10th EU country to pass such legislation, and the second Scandinavian country to do so after Sweden introduced similar laws in 2018.

The Local pointed out on March 12 that the new laws would shift the burden of proof onto alleged perpetrators to demonstrate that consent had been given and that the survivor was in a state to give consent. At present, survivors are required to demonstrate that the accused is proved to have had sex with somebody who tried to, or was unable to, stop the act.

The changes are expected to significantly lift the potential for rape convictions and make complaint processes easier for survivors.

While changing the legal framework regarding is important in challenging sexual violence it’s insufficient and much work still needs to be done around attitudes towards sexual activity which see access to another person’s body as a right.

Lisbeth Latham is a contributing editor of Irish Broad Left. The poster text above reads “A victory for Unity List Consent-based rape legislation – A step in the right direction”

Romani and Traveller activists deliver action plan on Romani Resistance Day

Aspiring Romani barrister, Brigitta Balogh, independently organised a parliamentary event in Westminster on 16 May 2019 to mark Romani Resistance Day, officially commemorating the Romani heroes of 1944 for the first time in the United Kingdom.

The “Press for Progress” conference was a working event intended to set out a 10 Point Action Plan to the government and ministerial bodies on how to improve the lives of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities in the UK. Participants had the opportunity to engage in critical discussion and create guidance for the government on how to proceed in future when drafting policies affecting these communities.

The event was chaired by Andy Slaughter MP, who was joined in a panel by Jonathan Lee from the European Roma Rights Centre, Lisa Smith who is the Chair of the Advisory Council for the Education of Romany and other Travellers, Mihai Calin Bica, a campaigner at the Roma Support Group, and Brigitta Balogh, a Bar Professional Training Student at City University of Law.

The 10 recommendations are intended to be distributed amongst civil society organisations, and government and ministerial bodies. The attendees of the event request the government to promote and protect the rights and entitlements of these underrepresented marginalised communities, in reference to the 10 Point Action Plan set out here. In order to press for meaningful progress in the lives of Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers in this country, we recommend that ministers and policy makers:

  1. Create and fully implement a National Roma Integration Strategy and appoint a Gypsy, Roma or Traveller person as the main national contact point in the United Kingdom
  2. Reinstate the part of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 that places a statutory obligation on authorities to provide sites.
  3. Establish a funding scheme specifically targeting Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils in order to support both secondary and higher education students. This scheme is to be based on the methods set out by the Roma Education Fund to ensure Romani empowerment by promoting participation in professions in which Roma are underrepresented.
  4. Reject recent policy proposals to make every form of trespass a criminal offence.
  5. Introduce a statutory definition of Gypsy and Traveller, for use in all relevant areas such as housing, planning, accommodation assessment, education and health. This will incorporate those living a nomadic way of life and those who have ceased to live in this way for purposes that include: educating children; illness; old age; and lack of pitch provision.
  6. Introduce a definition of anti-gypsyism in the United Kingdom to help acknowledge and raise awareness of the discrimination faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. Discrimination includes hate speech, hate crime, cyber bullying, social exclusion and direct or indirect institutional racism. The definition is to be used in active monitoring schemes that identify and record racially motivated incidents.
  7. Simplify the EU settlement scheme to ensure it is accessible for Roma and other groups who may be lacking the necessary documentation, language and IT skills.
  8. Establish a government obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to collect and monitor racist incidents of bullying in schools, including acts against Gypsy/Roma and Irish Travellers.
  9. Establish a Romani and Traveller Women’s group as part of Parliament. This is to be based on the Council of Europe recommendation to promote Romani Women’s political participation.
  10. Allocate funding and appointing a national co-ordinator to support Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History month.

The 10 Point Action Plan was drafted by participants who attended the event:

Stephen Marsh
Lara Simak
Zachary Whyte
Tom Hoeksma
Sioned Morgan
Natalie Ayre
Jonathan Lee
Lisa Smith

The Action Plan was finalised in consultation with:

David Watkinson
Michael Haggar
Lynne Townley
Colin Clark .

Photo above picturing the activists involved is by Brigitta Balogh.

Thousands plan to protest Donald Trump’s visit to Ireland

By Memet Uludag.

Protest: Thursday June 6, 6pm at the Garden of Rembrance, Dublin. See the Facebook event here.

Donald Trump is a threat to us all.

His presidential campaign was based on racism against Mexicans – “build that wall!” He has tried to ban visitors and migrants from Muslim countries from entering the US. He is separating children from their parents at the border. 

President Trump gives carte blanche support to apartheid Israel to murder Palestinians and steal their land at will. He has worked with, encouraged and emboldened far right racists and fascists across the world.

As the world’s leading climate change denier who has pulled the US out of the Paris climate agreement, removed environment protection in America he is destroying the planet and endangering the whole future of humanity. 

In the age of #MeToo, when women globally are standing up for their rights, he has boasted of his ability to sexually assault women with impunity. 

He is undermining Irish neutrality via Shannon. He is an imperialist warmonger. 

Trump has posed as the friend of ‘the working man’ but in reality he is a billionaire property developer who represents the interests of the super-rich.  He filled his cabinet with CEOs and generals. 

Our protest against Trump is in solidarity with the millions of American people who are also victimised by Trump’s policies. We extend our solidarity to all people in the US involved in the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter campaigns, and those who stand up to Trump’s barbaric border policies.

United Against Racism calls on the Irish government, which claims to be progressive, to make this clear to Donald Trump and to ensure that no public money – so urgently needed for the housing and health crisis – is spent on this visit.  

We call on European governments to open the borders to refugees fleeing wars and persecution.  

We also call on the Irish government to #EndDirectProvision and normalise all undocumented migrants in Ireland.

We are for a progressive Ireland of equality, justice and hope, not of racism, hate and fear!

Memet Uludag is the convener of United Against Racism, and one of the organisers of the ‘Stand up to Trump!’ protest in Dublin, which is supported by a broad range of progressive campaign organisations, unions and parties. Protests are also taking place in Shannon, Cork, Belfast and Derry. Follow Memet on Twitter @Memzers, and follow United Against Racism on Twitter @UnitedARacism.

Talking period poverty with Homeless Period Ireland

Interview with Claire Hunt by Evelyn Flynn.

Evelyn Flynn, a medical student from Dublin, sat down with Homeless Period Ireland’s Claire Hunt to talk period poverty. 

EF: What is Homeless Period about? How did it come about?

CH: In December 2016, the Homeless Period Dublin initiative was born with a view to helping women and girls who found themselves unable access to basic sanitation and female hygiene products every month. In 2017 I took over the general management of the Homeless Period Dublin initiative.

A social media campaign was launched to highlight this issue. Through this campaign it became apparent that this was a national issue. Emanating from this campaign, a decision was made to rebrand the initiative to Homeless Period Ireland (HPI). This rebranding aimed to help create awareness nationally and, more importantly, increase the number of drop-off points (places were the general public donate female sanitary and hygiene products) as well as increase nationally reach the frontline services that have direct access to the women in need.

The aim of Homeless Period Ireland is to donate period products (pads, tampons, liners, wipes) to those who otherwise would go without.  The donations are brought by volunteer drivers to homeless outreach centres, direct provision centres and women’s refuges. The Homeless Period Ireland is an initiative, not a charity, and is 100 per cent reliant on volunteers for distribution and collection of sanitary products.

EF: Period poverty is clearly global, but why is it such a problem in Ireland in particular? 

CH: It’s no secret that Ireland has a severe homelessness problem. This has never been properly addressed by successive governments. It was only a matter of time before the issue of homelessness became a national scandal, which I believe it now has, and people are now starting to talk about it. 

Period poverty is just one aspect of overall poverty, but it is a subject that no-one wanted to talk about until recently. There are also women and children who are spending years in direct provision centres with no access to products. These are just some of the most vulnerable in society and are easily forgotten. What Homeless Period Ireland aims to do is make a small difference in people’s lives who find themselves in difficult situations. It is one less thing to worry about.

EF: What should the government be doing on period poverty? What are your demands? 

CH: It’s rather simple. Free access to sanitary products in all publically owned facilities including schools, universities, prisons, direct provision centres and refuges. We have seen great strides made in Scotland, England and Wales in this regard and our politicians are starting to sit up and take notice.

In fact, a motion was recently passed in the Dáil by a cross -party female caucus on this very subject. We hope that the Minister for Finance makes the appropriate provisions to roll out a scheme where free products are provided in the next budget.

EF: Homeless Period Ireland seeks to mitigate the undignifying results of period poverty, but what are its causes? 

CH: Period poverty stems from poverty itself. However, this is a female-only issue and traditionally the men in our society would not discuss a topic like this. Over time a taboo has surrounded the subject of periods as they are viewed as “icky” or with disgust. However, periods are a women’s health topic and should be treated as such. Until we can change people’s mindsets, the issue of period poverty will never be properly addressed. After all, without periods, there is no human race.

EF: There are many different menstrual products out there, how does your initiative ensure good quality products for everyone? Is there a problem with some cheap brands? 

CH: Homeless Period Ireland is happy to accept products for distribution regardless of the brand and the women who benefit from the public’s generous donations would say likewise. However, we have seen in some instances that certain brands are not fit for purpose and end up being a false economy.

We would advocate that when the Minister of Finance hopefully makes provisions in his budget for the supply of products that good quality products are sourced. Women also have different needs each month with some needing better products to keep themselves properly protected. As the old saying goes, “buy cheap, buy twice”.

EF: Periods are still extremely stigmatised. What’s your vision of world free of period-shaming? What does that look like? 

CH: We need to normalise periods and that starts with education – we need to educate both girls and boys about periods. We also need to see products more available in schools, universities, sports stadiums, etc. Availability and visibility of period products will help to break the stigma. 

EF: Homeless Period Ireland really hits home on the particular challenges of combating period poverty for homeless women in particular. Can you explain a bit more the particular challenges faced by homeless women in relation to period poverty?

CH: Imagine you stepped in a puddle. Your sock is wet, and your shoe is wet. You are far from home, so you have to walk around all day with your wet sock and your wet shoe with the cold seeping into your skin and bones. Your friends may mock you because you were so silly to step in the puddle in the first place so you say nothing. Imagine that happens for up to seven days in a row … and that it will happen again next month. That, sadly, is the reality for a lot of women experiencing period poverty.  

Claire Hunt runs Homeless Period Ireland and Evelyn Flynn is a medical student with an interest in women’s health. Follow Evelyn on Twitter @EvelynCFlynn.

You can follow Homeless Period Ireland on Twitter @HomelessPeriodD and on Instagram @homelessperiodireland.

New secure-hour law is a gamechanger in the fight against low pay and poverty

By David Gibney.

Ireland has a very serious low pay problem, and a corresponding problem with poverty. We have the highest prevalence of low-paid jobs in the EU. Only a matter of weeks ago St Vincent de Paul stated that almost 800,000 people live in poverty, including 230,000 children. Finding employment should be a route out of poverty, but there are now more than 100,000 “working poor”.

One of the reasons for this is the lack of power workers have in winning pay increases. Ireland has among the most restrictive workers’ rights legislation in the EU, with no legal right to trade union representation for collective bargaining purposes.

The absence of this fundamental human right means workers have two routes in terms of winning pay rates that provide you with a meaningful and productive life: beg your boss; or go on strike and win the best possible deal.

Going on strike, though, can be extremely difficult. Especially if you are victimised for it. Which is exactly what many employers do.

Victimised for striking

When 6,000 Dunnes Stores workers across more than 100 stores in Ireland took industrial action on 2 April 2015, the very next day management began a campaign of retribution.

Workers who had worked 38 hours per week for years had their hours slashed to the bare minimum in their contracts, 15 hours.

For many, this was a cut from €418 per week to €165 per week, a 60 per cent loss of pay. With the dole being €188 at the time, it was clear what direction management wanted trade union members to go in.

Control over hours causes compliance

This level of control over working hours and therefore income leads to a very compliant workforce. Why would you go on strike if your manager can slash your hours the very next day and deprive you of your ability to pay your bills or feed your children?

“Is security over working hours used by management to control or intimidate you or others in the workplace?”

When Mandate surveyed workers in the bar trade, asking them this question, 44 per cent of all respondents said ‘yes’.

The survey of workers in the retail trade was even more stark, with 51 per cent of workers saying ‘yes’. When Mandate asked workers in Dunnes Stores, one of the largest private-sector employers in the country with 10,000 staff, whether allocation of hours was used to control or intimidate them, 85 per cent said yes.

Considering those two sectors alone – retail and bars – employ more than 350,000 workers, this is clearly a very large problem. And it’s why workers in those sectors could not win substantial pay increases – until now.

For more than a decade, Mandate had focused on winning secure-hour contracts along with pay increases. The first deal was done with Tesco Ireland in 2006. Penneys followed in 2013. It was clear in 2015 that Dunnes Stores and many other employers could not be persuaded, and so a political campaign to change legislation had to commence.

As Muireann Dalton, Dunnes worker in Newtownmountkennedy said: “If Dunnes Stores won’t change, we’ll change the world around Dunnes Stores.”

On Monday 4 March 2019, five years after Mandate started the campaign to win secure hours, new legislation was enacted.

Secure-hour legislation won

The legislation has many benefits:

  • Workers are entitled to a written statement of their terms of employment within first five days;
  • Zero–hour contracts are banned in almost all circumstances;
  • Workers are entitled to a minimum payment if their employer fails to provide them with work;
  • Wage rates below the minimum wage for trainees are abolished; and
  • Workers are entitled to be guaranteed hours of work that reflect their normal working week.

While all of these provisions are important, it is the last one that will hopefully enable workers to achieve far better pay and conditions of employment.

Under the new law, a worker has a right to be placed in a ‘band of hours’ that accurately reflects the hours they worked over the previous 12 months.

For instance, a retail worker on a 15-hour contract, but who has been working 32 hours per week on average over the past year, is entitled to be placed in the 31-36 hour band. Their employer can give them more hours, but cannot reduce their hours below 31.

Strengthening workers’ power

This new provision should enable workers to take industrial action with more confidence in pursuit of pay increases and improvements to working conditions.

And if there was any doubt over the desire for secure-hour contracts, almost half of Mandate’s members in Dunnes Stores alone, 1,500 workers, have submitted banded hour requests in the first month of the legislation’s existence.

The legislation also contains strong anti-penalisation clauses, yet still employers are attempting to dissuade workers from utilising the legislation by fear-mongering and intimidation.

Some managers in Dunnes Stores, for instance, have been telling workers that if they apply for security over their hours, that the company cannot give them hours above the bands. This is despite the Minister confirming in the Dáil that they can: “[A]n employee who is employed on any band of hours can work more hours provided both the employer and employee agree to same.”

Other employers are warning workers that they may be requested to do extra duties if they apply for security over hours, or that they can be fired if they work hours outside their bands. All incorrect.

Dunnes workers and Mandate activists win rights for all

It is important to state that the provisions within the Act were fought for and won by Dunnes workers and hundreds of other Mandate activists.

When the government tried to water down the legislation by seeking an 18-month reference period, Mandate members pushed back and demanded a maximum of 12 months.

When the government tried to introduce broader bands of hours, which would facilitate employers cutting incomes by more than 50 per cent, Mandate members fought back and demanded maximum flexibility of five hours per band.

This new law is the most significant win for the trade union movement in decades. We didn’t get everything we wanted, and it could have been an awful lot better if Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael had accepted Joan Collins’ and Clare Daly’s amendment demanding that any available working hours are offered to existing part-time staff before hiring new workers.

It will, however, enable trade unions in all sectors to win better pay increases without fear of recriminations. And this, in turn, can help us to challenge low pay and poverty and deprivation levels in Ireland.

David Gibney is the Communications Officer for Mandate Trade Union. Follow him on Twitter @davegibney and follow Mandate @MandateTU.

Irish Travellers are expected to participate in political ideologies that aid our own oppression

By Bernard Sweeney.

Since the formation of the Irish state, Travellers have been subjected to a sequence of oppressive policies, much the same as those that were weaponised against all Irish people prior to 1922.

Since the creation of the Free State with the liberation, albeit partial, of the Irish people, it could be argued that those who benefited most were the Anglo Irish – those who were either direct descendants of the British ruling class, or those who had become the more culturally anglicised by adopting a foreign class system of capitalism and exploitation. For Travellers, little changed under the new state. For us, it was as if the British never left; it was merely one oppressor being replaced by another.

Coloniser mentality remained

While physical elements of British rule were removed, the mentality remained the same; the system never changed except in name. This meant that Irish Travellers remained imprisoned and controlled by the leftover psychology of colonisation. The psychologist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon addresses this phenomenon in his seminal work, Black Skin, White Masks.

Fanon helps us to understand the complex ways in which identity is constructed and produced; the feelings of dependency and inadequacy that colonised peoples experience. Those who have lost their native cultural origins look to the invaders for guidance, and this produces an inferiority complex – and may then result in the colonised trying (consciously or otherwise) to appropriate and imitate the culture of the coloniser. It stand to reason therefore, that the upwardly mobile Irish then began to view Irish Travellers as they themselves had once been viewed by the British.

Settled people’s history tells of all the atrocities that befell the Irish people during the British occupation and conquests: the mass evictions, the brutality, the famine/genocide, and how our ancestors lived, suffered and died. But what we were not told was our own story.

Our history shall be written

We were not always known as ‘Travellers’. Irish Travellers were known over the centuries by many names – as we were, and still are, the living link between the Ireland before the British invasions and the present day. This is widely recognised in our contribution to Irish traditional music, oral history, song language, and our commitment to a clan system, something we still just about cling on to. Before we were labelled as ‘Travellers’ by settled people, we were known amongst ourselves as Mincier– a title we must reclaim.

During the Elizabethan Conquest, it became clear what the British intentions were when they started destroying the clan system, breaking down what was left of old Ireland. Gaelic Ireland had flourished for thousands of years, but this was now to come to an end, replaced by a foreign system.

Passage of time saw one generation of Irish people after another colonised, forced and assimilated into a culturally British way of life. In time the British language replaced our own: it was taught in all schools and universities; English history replaced Irish history; the traditions, cultures and structures were all designed and governed by the British.

The sentiment of this article is not anti-British, it is to illustrate that how sometimes we don’t really even know our own mind, so deep-rooted is this process. And how Irish society as we now know it is still a longstanding result of colonisation and 800 years of oppression that has not gone away.

Our education system is British, gone are the traditions of oral history in a language of our own. Our legal system, lifestyle and political systems are all drawn from the British. It stands to reason that after hundreds of years of this conditioning, that Irish society then turns on its own minority.

The social discord that exists between Traveller and non-Traveller communities is a symptom of systematic oppression, one that is rooted in the history of this island. Progress is often hindered by political bias and in some instances, political bigotry, but underlying this is a lack of understanding of how this history has created these divisions in our country. It should be stated that once this history and its psychological implications are fully understood, then it will be realised that to be anti-Traveller is to be anti-Irish. We are, after all, Ireland’s only indigenous ethnic minority.

Where do we go from here?

Creating a bridge to allow progression requires a forum of substance wherein big ideas and substantial structural issues can be examined and constructively presented to decision-makers.

I’d like to propose that a Traveller Citizens’ Assembly be established, modelled on the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, without participation from politicians unless selected by the Assembly. Let it be constituted equally of all genders and across all age cohorts and geographical locations.

These assemblies would be chaired by a barrister, lawyer or judge and the deliberations and recommendations of the Traveller Citizen’s Assembly would be submitted directly to governing bodies. Where legislative issues are deliberated, submissions would be made directly to Joint Oireachtas Committees.

Internal democracy

I and many other Traveller activists strongly believe that a Traveller system of internal democracy can be developed wherein Travellers nominate and elect our own representatives on to local authority policy groups, state boards, Oireachtas Committees and NGOs. This process will enable Travellers to democratically elect their spokespersons and representatives onto governing bodies charged with Traveller inclusion.

Such a system will in and of itself provide a mechanism for aspiring public representatives to develop their skills, and it would give Irish Travellers the platform to build a better society for all people and communities.

Politically informed decision-making is now more important than ever. When we are living in a world with a multitude of issues, each decision has a profound effect both on the planet and its inhabitants.

Electoral education and participation

There are many steps can be taken. Voting is vital and maybe should be made compulsory, there perhaps could be also be a political education process to at least try to inform people of the various political ideologies, so that more informed decisions can take place.

Inclusiveness In the electoral process could be increased by making it easier for people from all backgrounds, including Travellers and other minorities to get accessible information by going to a website or downloading an app, perhaps allowing people to check the live register online, and to provide links to YouTube videos informing them and showing them how to fill in particular forms.

There has been nothing of this sort in electoral drives south of the border, though it must be emphasised that systems and attitudes need to change drastically if the dearth of Travellers engaged in electoral politics is to be changed in any meaningful way.

If political parties are genuine and sincere in ending racism against Irish Travellers, I would suggest co-opting at least one Traveller onto each political party – not merely in a tokenistic way, but to allow full autonomy of each Traveller in their political party to veto decisions and votes and to work solely for the assembly of Travellers on promoting equality and inclusivity.

Full autonomy to deviate from decisions that are detrimental to our own community is imperative. If we are to promote Traveller political participation, we cannot be expected to endorse any party or policy that ultimately aids our own oppression.

Bernard Sweeney is a committed Mincier activist. He has recently developed and launch his own Traveller media project TraVision, a platform for discussions on all issues concerning the Traveller community. Follow him on twitter @1bernardsweeney.

Image above shows Bernard Sweeney, left, host of TraVision, with guests Martin Collins, Vincent Browne and Kathleen Lawrence, in Pavee Point, Dublin. Photo: Dara Mac Dónaill.

Roma student’s open letter on legalised discrimination against Gypsies & Travellers

By Brigitta Balogh.

Below is an open letter from Brigitta Balogh to British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Minister for Faith, with responsibility for Gypsy and Traveller equality policy Lord Bourne.

Dear Lord Bourne,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Brigitta Balogh and I am a Hungarian-born Roma woman, currently attending the Bar Professional Training Course at City University of Law, aiming to become the first Roma person to qualify as a barrister in England and Wales. My primary goal in undertaking this work is to advance Gypsy, Roma and Traveller civil rights with an informed legal background.

I have attempted to reach out to you and your office previously. However, my request for a meeting to discuss several pressing issues relating to recent High Court injunction orders have all fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, I have no option but to publicly address you via an open letter and request legal reforms.

As Minister for Faith, you are responsible for Gypsy and Traveller Equality Policy. This means that you have a duty to implement and monitor policy and make sure that those that are in place are applied fairly and equally, as well as complying with Human Rights legislation.

I believe that the communities have experienced laws, over many years, that are both directly and indirectly discriminatory. By way of recent example, the Planning Policy for Traveller Sites ​(PPTS) published in 2015 by the Department for Communities and Local Government changed the definition of Gypsy and Traveller.

Annex 1 of the PPTS sets out who is and who is not considered to be a Gypsy and Traveller for planning purposes and therefore who is, and who is not, entitled to the slightly more progressive regime of the PPTS. The change in the definition excluded Gypsies and Travellers who have had to stop travelling permanently. It has been argued that the definition is discriminatory, prejudicial, unreasonable and disproportionate, especially in relation to those who stopped travelling due to age, ill health or educational needs.

You will also know that the Caravan Sites Act 1968 placed a statutory obligation on local authorities to provide Gypsy and Traveller sites where they were needed. However, that part of the 1968 Act was repealed by the ​Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and, as a result, local authorities no longer have any legal obligation to provide sites.

Further, since the mid 1990’s, the situation has deteriorated further and councils are now obtaining High Court injunction orders to ban Gypsy and Travellers from their areas. This is a deliberate act to force our community to settle and the UK government should recognise that these orders are indirectly forcing the community to renounce its nomadic heritage and leave its traditions behind, potentially breaching Human Rights legislation.

Many government policies unfairly disadvantage Gypsy and Traveller communities and we witness firsthand uninformed MPs using their positions and influence to lobby for stricter enforcement of unauthorised sites in their areas, seemingly forgetting that many families are also their constituents.

We note that the hatred and antipathy directed towards Gypsy and Traveller families is also a potential vote-winner on occasion. For example, Douglas Ross MP, who was recently asked what he would do if he were to be Prime Minister for a day, stated: “I would like to see tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers.”

However, Mr Ross is not the only MP who has made such comments. Back in 2017, during the House of Commons debate, I had the misfortune of listening to Philip Davis MP talking about the “high level” of criminal activity within Gypsy and Traveller communities. He cited no evidence to support this.

Also, Mark Francois MP suggested that Parliament should make deliberate acts of trespass a criminal offence, as if this would help the situation of a lack of sites and pitches. These inaccurate comments find their way into the media and fit with The Sun and other newspapers open propaganda against the communities.

These agendas are destructive and take the focus away from providing legal protection for the communities. More recently, Labour Councillor Bob Murray for Denbighshire commented that “Hitler had the right idea” in reference to “dealing with” Travellers in his constituency. The fact that this was reported on International Roma Day, a day to celebrate our Gypsy Traveller culture and heritage, did not go unnoticed.

Regarding hate speech, in my view, the consequences of allowing public servants to engage in public instances of anti-Gypsyism actively prevents the possibility of positive social change. It is imperative to tackle and eliminate these elements as well as further support initiatives such as Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, which has taken place in June every year since 2008 in the UK. This month-long series of events raises awareness and introduces community history into the school curriculum to support broader equality measures.

It is evident that the ​Equality Act 2010 has not changed perceptions of the Gypsy and Traveller population by the general public. We witness higher rates of bullying in schools, greater exclusions and now injunction orders. For these reasons, we suggest that it is your duty to propose significant and progressive legal reforms.

The UK government seems reluctant to engage in this process or change the status quo for these long overlooked, under-represented, marginalised communities who tend to live under poor socio-economic conditions, experiencing injustice in every field of life – but we hope that you will take a more positive approach.

The Welsh Government has a much more proactive approach towards Gypsies and Travellers. There, the Housing (Wales) Act 2014 has placed a duty on local authorities to provide sites, where a need has been identified, a model which can surely then be replicated in other parts of the UK.

A longstanding argument led by Gypsy Traveller activists suggests that the solution to the problem of lack of site provision is to reinstate the relevant parts of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 ensuring local authorities create a network of sites. There has to be accountability measures both from the UK Government and political party leaders to ensure local councils implement policy effectively, including provision of permanent and transit pitches and emergency stopping places.

A further example of innovation is Leeds Gate’s Negotiated Stopping policy; all authorities should be using this policy as an official way of catering for roadside encampments. Individual activists and organisations have been advocating for decades on these issues but progress has been limited. This cannot continue.

Lord Bourne, as the Minister responsible for Gypsy and Traveller Equality Policy, I urge you to address these issues as a matter of urgency. What I request is that you give the issues outlined above immediate attention that will be followed by positive action – as it is long-awaited. Amongst people who are willing to support this open letter, there are many who protested against repealing the duty contained in the 1968 Act. They have been actively fighting for the community and it is time to take action.

Please do not dismiss my motion for law reform by drawing my attention to the recent consultation dealing with unauthorised development and encampments. We need positive practical remedies and what we need to discuss, above all else is how to reinstate the obligation on authorities to provide sites.

Signed:
Brigitta Balogh.

IN SUPPORT:

Members of the British Parliament/London Assembly

  • Tom Copley, London Labour Party Member of the London Assembly.
  • Andy Slaughter, Labour Party Member of Parliament.
  • Caroline Russell​, Green Party Member of the London Assembly
  • Sian Berry,​ Green Party Member of the London Assembly

Lawyers

  • Greg O’ Ceallaigh​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Stephen Clark​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Michelle Brewer, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Owen Greenhall​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Franck Magennis​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • David Jones​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Paul Clark​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Miranda Butler​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • Camila Zapata Besso​, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers
  • David Joyce, Solicitor and Human Rights Commissioner at the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission
  • Aurora Curtis, Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society, USA

Academics

  • Colin Clark​, Professor at the University of the West of Scotland
  • Dr Hazel Marsh, Senior Lecturer in Latin American Studies University of East Anglia
  • Alexander Faludy, Independent Researcher, Portsmouth, UK
  • Beverley Stephens, Professor at University of Wales Trinity St David

UK and European Organisations

  • European Roma Rights Centre
  • ​Friends Families and Travellers
  • Traveller Movement
  • ​ACERT
  • Travelling Ahead
  • Leeds Gate
  • Derbyshire Gypsy Liaison Group
  • National Federation of Gypsy Liaison Group

Brigitta Balogh is a Roma law student, currently attending the Bar Professional Training Course at City University of Law, aiming to become the first Roma person to qualify as a barrister in England and Wales. Follow her on Twitter @hellobrigitta.

Ecuador’s neoliberal turn: Corruption and voter fraud behind Julian Assange’s arrest

By Denis Rogatyuk.

The scenes of six Metropolitan police officers dragging Wikileaks founder Julian Assange out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London as he was clutching a copy of the History of the National Security State by Gore Vidal have sent shockwaves of horror and an avalanche of condemnation from all around the world. Assange had been granted asylum in the embassy since 2012.

Although Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has been working towards expelling Assange from the embassy since at least December 2018, a chain of events in the last several months shows a clear pattern of increasing political instability, revelations of mass corruption in Moreno’s family, a further turn towards neoliberal economic reforms with the implementation of the IMF deal, and the gradual and total embrace and support for the US foreign policy in the region.

The INA Papers Scandal and growing political instability

Wikileaks’s decision to re-publish the details of Moreno’s use of offshore bank accounts in Panama, titled the INA Papers after the name of the shell corporation at the centre of the scandal (INA Investment Corporation) allegedly served as the main cause for his decision to expel the Australian journalist from the embassy. The Ecuadorian Communications Minister Andrés Michelena event went as far as claiming that the INA Papers were a conspiracy plot between Julian Assange, the former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The INA Papers scandal has cast a long shadow on Moreno’s regime and its rhetoric of allegedly fighting against institutional corruption. Most notably, the scandal reveals a close associate of Moreno, Xavier Macias, lobbying for the contract of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric power plant (valued at $2.8 billion) as well as the ZAMORA 3000 MW plant to be awarded Sinohydro, a Chinese state-owned construction company.

The money route from the Chinese corporation passes through bank accounts in Panama belonging to INA Investment Corporation – a shell company originally founded in the tax haven Belize by Edwin Moreno Garcés, the brother of the current President. The most crucial pieces of evidence indicate that the INA Investment funds were used for the purchase of a 140 m2 apartment in the city of Alicante, Spain, and a number of luxury items for President Moreno and his family in Geneva, Switzerland, during his time as a special envoy on disability rights in the United Nations.

As the pressure mounted on Moreno, the Attorney General of Ecuador issued a statement on March 19, indicating that it was commencing an investigation into the INA Papers scandal involving President Lenin Moreno and his family. Furthermore, on March 27, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a vote in favour of investigating Moreno’s alleged off-shore bank dealings in Panama. According to Ecuador Inmediato, 153 public service officials, along with all members of the National Assembly, were also included in the initial public hearing scheduled for April 1.

The corruption scandal comes amid a number of other prominent crises and changes undergoing both the Moreno administration and the Ecuadorian economy. The local and regional elections of March 24th, as well as the election to the Council of Citizens’ Participation and Social Control (CPCCS) on March 24, have been riddled with a series of controversies and irregularities with regards to vote counts and allegations of fraud, including the attempts to invalidate null votes, disqualify and smear the candidates endorsed by ex-President Rafael Correa, as well as a lack of transparency and legitimacy as highlighted by the report of the mission of electoral observers of the Organisation of American States. In a way, this mirrors the 2017 Honduran presidential elections, where mass voter fraud and other irregularities proved to be the key in returning of the hard-right Juan Orlando Hernandez government to power.  

The IMF deal and a turn towards the US

During the recent meeting of the Executive Board of the IMF, the financial body approved a loan package of $4.2 billion to the government of Lenin Moreno for what it called a “more dynamic, sustainable, and inclusive economy for the benefit of all Ecuadorians”. The agreement coincided with layoffs of more than 10,000 public sector workers, in addition to the ongoing policy of reduction in the public and social spending, a decrease in the level of minimum wage and the removal of secure work protections that marked the sharp neoliberal turn of the Ecuadorian government under Moreno.

The IMF deal coincided with the increasing attempts by the Ecuadorian government to proceed with the expulsion of Julian Assange from its London embassy, and his arrest is likely a sign that the Moreno regime is willing to give up any part of its sovereignty – political, diplomatic, or economic, to comply with the demands of the international finance agency.

The same pattern has been observed in his increasing level of collaboration with the Trump administration and its foreign policy in Latin America. From holding private meetings with former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, to publicly hosting US Vice President Mike Pence in the Ecuadorian presidential palace, to authorising the opening of a new ‘Security Cooperation Office‘ in place of the old US military base in Manta, Moreno’s embrace of the new Monroe doctrine has become all too apparent, just as the efforts to hand Assange over to the US authorities have grown over the last two years.

At the same time, he has gone to great lengths to undo the progress of Latin American unity and integration initiated by his predecessor and other progressive leaders in the region. On March 13, Lenin Moreno announced that Ecuador would leave the Union of South Ameircan Nations (UNASUR) international agreement originally founded in 2008 by the leaders of South American nations, most prominent among them Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Lula da Silva of Brazil. The project was inspired by the long-standing vision of Simon Bolivar who envisaged South America as a federation of various republics, and was meant to consolidate the growing economic and political integration among the increasingly progressive governments across the region, eventually emulating the current structure of the European Union.

Moreno alleged in his press release regarding the exit from UNASUR that the project has been as a result of the lack of participation of the right-leaning governments in the region, as well as the “irresponsible actions of certain leaders that replicated the worst vices of Socialism of the 21st Century”. In a manner similar to Francisco Santander and the project of Gran Colombia during the 1820s, Moreno has opted for a pro-US foreign policy and commercial relations based on free trade and liberalisation.

He has also increasingly followed the path of other right-wing leaders in the region such as Jair Bolsonaro and Mauricio Macri in officially recognising Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela. Moreno was also one of the attendees of the founding summit of Prosur, a newly convened regional block of US-aligned neoliberal governments.

In another unusual twist, the US ambassador, Todd Chapman, was spotted visiting the headquarters of the CNE during the March 24th election day and allegedly participating as an official electoral observer in the elections. This display of interference was widely condemned on social media as illegal under the current electoral rules, which forbid foreign powers from playing any active role in the observing or interfering the electoral process.

Silencing Wikileaks

Moreno’s decision to silence Julian Assange and expel him serves a dual purpose – to gain the trust of the Trump administration, and to direct the national and international public away from his corrupt dealing and offshore bank accounts, the fraudulent elections of March 24, and his mishandling of the Ecuadorian economy.

This has also been echoed in the comments made by Rafael Correa, the former President of Ecuador who first authorised Julian Assange’s asylum back in 2012. After having his page blocked on Facebook, Correa stated that, “In his hatred, because Wikileaks published corruption of INA papers, Moreno wanted to destroy Assange’s life. He probably did it, but he has also done a huge damage to the country. Who will trust in ECUADOR again?”.

Overall, Ecuador has come to resemble the neoliberal regimes of the 1990s across the continent, with IMF-sanctioned austerity, increasingly unstable state institutions and an almost complete obedience to the US foreign policy in the region becoming the new policy standard. By contrast, the decade of political stability and the economic progress enjoyed by the Ecuadorian citizens under President Correa’s government now seems like a cherished (albeit distant) memory that his supporters, and even his detractors, now seek to recover.

Denis Rogatyuk is a Russian-Australian freelance writer, journalist and researcher. His articles, interviews and analysis have been published in a variety of media sources around the world including Jacobin, Le Vent Se Léve, Sputnik, Green Left Weekly, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, Alborada and others.

Undercover at a global gathering of right-wing religious fundamentalists

By Eimear Sparks.

Last weekend, Verona hosted the World Congress of Families, a global gathering of religious fundamentalists and representatives of right-wing movements, including the Italian government, who seek to restore ‘the natural order’. Their tactics include denying women access to contraceptive and abortion care, putting in place impediments to divorce, and opposing LGBTQI rights of any kind.

Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-LGBT hate group”, the Congress provoked a furore among students, families, NGOs and progressive activists from across Europe, with tens of thousands flocking to Verona to march against the oppressive values of the meeting.

While these progressive voices claimed the streets outside, participants inside the conference were unperturbed and even encouraged by the criticism. They spoke freely of their xenophobic, anti-women and anti-LGBTQI agenda and railed against those who would deny them their “free [hate] speech”.

It was a safe space for hate speech and quackery, where dodgy statistics and pseudoscience were used to score points against marginalised groups. Speakers demonstrated a startling and dangerous lack of clarity in their terminology where “the media”, “the left” and “the EU” were used interchangeably, united only in their status as “enemy”.

Each component of this “enemy” was considered complicit in a coordinated cultural revolution seeking to destroy “European” (read: white and Christian) civilization through the imposition of LGBTQI and feminist values.

So far, so grimly predictable. More interesting, however, was the criticism levelled at Europe’s economic system, and how this was rolled up with the Congress’s attack on human rights. Several speakers blamed the imagined EU-media-leftist-industrial-complex for the 2008 bank bail-out and accelerated financialisation.

European politicians such as Matteo Salvini (Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister), Giorgia Meloni (leader of Brothers of Italy) and far-right French MEP Nicolas Bay attacked the individualism of modern society, which they claimed meant people were valued only as consumers. As such, human rights movements were interpreted as allies to the neoliberal agenda of capitalist leaders, which would come as a surprise to most of the left-wing activists out protesting fascism in Verona that weekend.

At times, this critique of the current economic order had bizarre overlaps with feminist thinking. There was broad agreement that many Europeans live in societies where women can no longer afford to have children, thanks to austerity and childcare costs.

But that’s as far as the feminist parallels ran: according to participants, feminists want to shame women who wanted to have families and force them instead to continue working. Speakers co-opted feminist language of self-determination, stating that women’s right to choose not to have an abortion should be privileged.

The use of pro-choice language in this way hinges on a deliberate misunderstanding of feminist values concerning equal opportunity. For feminists, ‘choice’ has always been about self-determination and the prioritisation of women’s wellbeing, in whatever direction that might be. What’s more, participants’ concern for mothers’ freedom from financial burden seemed hollow considering discussion of how it related to demographic decline.

The procreation of white, Christian families was considered key in counteracting a decline in Europe’s population, and politicians such as Hungary’s Minister for Family, Youth and International Affairs, Katalin Novak, presented the incentives she was offering to women to have children, to uproarious applause. Financial support for mothers seemed less about privileging women’s choice, and more about racist, longer-term demographic goals.

It was also necessary to unpack what speakers at the Congress meant by “individualism”. Talk of the economic dimension to this term quickly fell away when speakers ploughed ahead with their oppressive agenda. They presented individualisation as the result of an ideology that, in its vision of inclusivity, had forced people to shed identities as Christians, nationalists and family members. As such, the identities of ‘mother’, ‘father’, ‘daughter’ and ‘son’ were no longer privileged, and risked being replaced by the terms ‘parent 1’ and ‘parent 2’.

It is, of course, unsurprising that in spite of an ostensible yearning for family and community, participants were steadfast in their efforts to exclude and deny protection to families that do not consist of a man, woman, and their (preferably numerous) cis children.

So what can the left take from the World Congress of Families? Rhetoric at the event was often so jumbled and ill-defined that nuance was hard to grasp, but nuance isn’t the point. What we know is that the Congress and its supporters are striving towards a world premised on the erasure of LGBTQI individuals, a handmaid’s-tale vision for the role of women and the hegemony of white Christianity – and that anyone contesting this agenda is an enemy to their cause. As such, for the Congress, differences between capitalists and progressives, NGOs and the media are not necessary to demarcate.

What we also see is an accelerated co-option of the language of the left. We have known for a long time that rights-based language has been adopted by the anti-rights movements, and many of us have observed the use of words such as ‘love’ and ‘equality’ by anti-choice, anti-LGBTQI movements. We must now stand firm – not only by our values, but by our language, so that words such as ‘love,’ ‘rights,’ ‘choice’ and ‘equality’ are not corrupted by hate.

Eimear Sparks is an advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights and a current member of the SheDecides 25×25 young leaders. She has experience campaigning for abortion rights in several contexts, including during the Repeal the 8th campaign and with Women on Waves during their campaign in Mexico in 2017.

Photo above by Martina Šalov.