Slavery can never, ever be defended as ‘cultural’
THE last time that a group of Irish Travellers were convicted of keeping slaves, in Bedfordshire in 2012, the Connors’ family’s defence counsel told the court, ‘The Travelling community have been doing this for hundreds of years’.
That’s right, that was their defence. ‘We are not dealing with the norm here,’ continued Lewis Power QC. ‘We are dealing with Travellers and their specific culture.’
There was no suggestion, therefore, that these were criminals whose ethnic identity was incidental to their offences. On the contrary, their ethnic heritage was offered as an excuse for keeping vulnerable men in fear-filled, squalid captivity for up to 26 years – or, as their counsel put it, it was their culture ‘to offer hospitality to men of the road’ in return for their labour.
And, this week, the ‘specific culture’ of the Irish Travelling community once again featured in the defence of the Rooney family, who were jailed on Wednesday for a strikingly similar and equally horrendous catalogue of inhumane acts.
They had kept 18 men in ‘chillingly merciless’ conditions, said the judge who jailed the family for a combined total of 80 years. They themselves lived in extravagant luxury, enjoying exotic holidays, expensive cars and homes, Rolex watches and gym membership, Manchester United soccer school training and even cosmetic surgery, while their victims starved in filthy, cramped huts and were regularly beaten by family members, who included some bareknuckle boxers. The difference in the lifestyles of masters and slaves, said the judge, was like ‘the gulf between medieval royalty and peasantry’.
Yet their lawyers had argued that the practice of keeping slaves went on at Travellers’ camps all over the UK, and that the Rooneys’ behaviour was not unusual. ‘Sadly, I very much fear that you may be correct about that,’ said the judge, ‘but that does not make it right.’ Afterwards, UK detectives estimated that tens of thousands of slaves may be working for Irish Travellers across the country – in May and June alone, 111 arrests were made, and 130 potential victims identified.
So we have it, from these Travellers themselves through their defence lawyers, that they see keeping slaves as an element of ‘their specific culture’ and, again from their own mouths, that it is widespread. Last year, our then Taoiseach lauded the ‘unique culture’ of Irish Travellers when according them ethnic identity status. Advocates like Pavee Point assure us that there is much to celebrate and perpetuate about the Traveller culture.
Unfortunately, they are alarmingly slow to acknowledge that there are elements of Traveller culture that are a disgrace to any civilised society. Commenting on the Rooney case, Martin Collins of Pavee Point said this behaviour was not exclusive to Travellers but exists among ‘all ethnic groups’. Well, sorry, Martin, but that’s not how the Rooneys and the Connors see it.
Both families, in their defence, were pretty clear – keeping slaves is a widespread, longstanding practice in their communities and, as their lawyer put it, they shouldn’t be judged by our ‘norms’. And, given that there have been at least three previous convictions of Irish Travellers in slavery cases in the UK in the past few years, that’s not how the evidence looks, either.
GARDAÍ recently released a video made by a 20-strong gang of Cork Travellers, in which masked men brandished slashhooks and machetes and fired sawn-off shot guns as they threatened a rival gang. There are dozens of such videos available online, featuring Traveller men threatening others in socalled ‘feuds’ – often simply territorial battles between organised crime and drugs gangs. Again, this feuding, threatening and taunting appears to be a widespread feature of modern-day Traveller culture and, again, it is one that their champions are slow to acknowledge. On the contrary, as I have discovered myself, Pavee Point and their pals in the ludicrous Irish Council for Civil Liberties will do their damndest to have you jailed if you dare to criticise ‘feuding’ within the Travelling community.
I don’t doubt that there are decent, law-abiding, progressive Travellers who are dismayed by the savagery, cruelty and vast ill-gotten wealth of some members of their community, and who are horrified to have their culture used as an excuse for medieval barbarism and savage thuggery.
It’s a pity that, in their mealy-mouthed response to shameful Traveller crimes, their advocates can’t bring themselves to say so.