Slav­ery can never, ever be de­fended as ‘cul­tural’

Irish Daily Mail - - News -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.