Travellers owe it to Mullingar to sort out their grievances

Story by Tom Kelly

Tuesday, 5th August, 2008 12:00pm

Mullingar"s image has taken a hammering in the newspapers since last Tuesday afternoon"s riots at D"Alton Park and at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar.

While the riot between feuding Traveller families hit the headlines in all the national titles over the week, and indeed, over the weekend as well, it was probably 'The Times' that gave the town it"s worst drubbing, in a piece on tourist compensation claim stories.

'...Failte Ireland must be bracing itself for claims from any foreign tourists who were in Mullingar last week, witnessing the annual heritage riot. Clearly some Mullingar residents have yet to finish reading the Law Reform Commission"s report on Alternative Dispute Resolution, published last week,' it stated.

It went on: 'The Mullingar tourist page on the internet boasts of its 'peaceful amenity areas' - presumably those in which the garda cordon is at its strongest.'

A family from Westmeath holidaying in the West of Ireland told the Westmeath Examiner this week that whenever they were asked where they were from, and replied 'Mullingar', the reaction they got was '....Oh.'

However, it has emerged that just a week before, there was also a serious Traveller row in Waterford, in which eight houses and caravans were burned out.

It is sad that Mullingar, a town that is one of the safest in Ireland, will now be for a long time associated with the outbreak of violence at D"Alton Park last Wednesday.

What is even sadder is that children were on site in D"Alton Park while this was going on - some of them standing on the sidelines participating in the shouting, others - the members of families with no connection whatsoever with the events outside - cowering in their homes as the battle raged outside their doors.

Travellers complain in this country that they are the subject of discrimination, and a huge number of pubs in this country have had to pay up after they were found to have been discriminatory towards Travellers. No-one is advocating any sort of discrimination against Travellers, but with the revelation this week that there are a number of feuds going on between different Traveller 'clans', all over Ireland, is it any wonder that publicans feel nervous if a large group of Travellers wishes to enter their establishment?

There is a video on You Tube showing a Westmeath Traveller family that is quite shocking. It contains threats, slander and abuse from people who, while shadow-boxing, name people against whom they have grudges. And it has been viewed 177,000 times.

The Travelling community - and it is fair to call them a community: they themselves want recognition as a distinct ethnic group - owe it to themselves, and they owe it to Mullingar, and they owe it to this country, to cop themselves on.

Settling grudges through threats and violence is not going to solve anything, and it is going to keep discrimination against Travellers running. And in fact, let"s not call it 'discrimination' as it is more frequently fear.

There are people who want to get out of Grange and D"Alton Park because of the Travellers" rows. Most people want to live in peace: go about their business, and come home to the sanctuary of their own homes. They don"t want to have to worry will there be a row today; will my house be damaged by a flying missile; should I keep my kids in the backroom so they don"t see what"s happening out front.

To the Travellers: What do you intend doing to stop these ongoing feuds? Do you want your own children growing up thinking violence is the norm? Do you want to remain outside the mainstream for good?

It will take Mullingar a long time to forget what has happened. If there"s some mistrust of Travellers after last week, well that"s not the fault of the settled community.

If Travellers want integration and understanding, they"re going to have to pull in their horns, and live by the law.

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