Anti-Traveller discrimination and hate speech on trial in Ireland
The Irish Times reported on March 2 that the Fine Gael councillor John Flannery had been acquitted of charges under section 2 the 1989 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act. The State had alleged that comments made by the councillor at a meeting of the Western Health Board in May 1998 (see "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Summer 1998) amounted to incitement to hatred. Mr Flannery allegedly compared Travellers to dogs.
Mr Gary O'Halloran of the Southern Travellers' Justice Group stated that there had been an increase in attacks on Travellers following Mr Flannery's remarks. He claimed that if the comments had been withdrawn at the time, some of the distress could have been alleviated. The Fine Gael party agreed on a motion to condemn Mr Flannery's statement shortly after he had made it and the party called upon him to withdraw it and apologise. The Irish Times reported on May 14, 1998 that the Councillor claimed he had not intended his remarks to be racist. In December 1998, the councillor was nominated by Fine Gael to stand for local elections in County Mayo.
The 1989 Act includes reference to offence caused to the Travelling community. In comments supporting his decision to dismiss the claim, Judge Thomas Fitzpatrick suggested that the national press had taken the councillor's comments out of context. The Galway Travellers' Support Group expressed its dismay at the decision and called upon the government to review the legislation concerned. Mr Flannery declined after the hearing to apologise to the Travelling community for his comments.
In another case of alleged anti-Traveller discrimination, The Irish Times reported that on February 12, 1999, Ennis Circuit Court had restored a drinks licence to Mr Jackie Whelan, owner of the Railway Bar, Ennis, County Clare. The licence renewal was previously refused by Ennis District Court in the autumn after a complaint by Mr David McDonagh, a settled Traveller, that he had been refused service in the bar (see "Snapshots from around Europe", Roma Rights, Autumn 1998). Mr Whelan formally apologised to Mr McDonagh for the incident in a letter sent to his solicitor on February 8, 1999, after which Mr McDonagh withdrew his complaint.
The Irish Times also reported on February 11, 1999, that Ms Mary Stokes, a long time leader of the Irish Traveller's Movement in the town of Longford in the north of the Irish Republic, intended to run for election for the urban district council in the town. Ms Stokes told The Irish Times that she had intended to wait until the next general election, but had come under pressure from area residents to stand in the forthcoming local elections. Ms Stokes said "I hope that we can do something to bring Travellers and settled people together and that Travellers can take their proper place in society". The main issue which Ms Stokes wished to tackle was discrimination, particularly in access to services. There is reportedly one other Traveller currently involved in political life in Ireland: Ms Ellen Mongan was elected to and presently sits on the Tuam Town Commissioners.
Finally, The Irish Times reported that on March 8, 1999, the Minister for Justice of the Republic of Ireland had announced the appointment of the Equality Authority designate who should begin preparations for the implementation of the Employment Equality Act 1998, signed by the President on June 18, 1998. The designate board includes, among representatives of other groups, Mr Thomas McCann, a member of the Traveller community. The Act outlaws discrimination on various grounds, including membership of the Travelling community, in a range of situations relating to employment. These include discrimination by employers, in collective agreements, in advertisements, by employment agencies, in vocational training and by certain other bodies, including trade unions. The Act also outlaws harassment in the work place and broadens the provisions of the 1974 Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act.
(ERRC, The Irish Times)