The Roma at the Roundabout

The endless immigration debate has taken a unique twist in Ireland lately with the bizarre developments on the M50 in Ballymun.

For the last few months a group of over 50 (32 adults, 22 children) Roma have been camping on the roundabout of an extremely busy motorway and numerous NGOs are calling for the Government to take action.

These Romani are citizens of Romania and as such are in a legal blackhole in terms of their rights in Ireland.

Ever since their country’s accession to the EU, citizens of Romania and Bulgaria have been subject to certain restrictions in Ireland. Unlike other EU citizens, a work permit is required for those looking to join the Irish labour market. At the same time, however, Romanian and Bulgarians can travel to Ireland as either tourists or as self-employed workers meaning that those without work permits can still come to the country and stay indefinitely.

However, because these countries are now in the EU their citizens can no longer apply for asylum and the existing restrictions on labour mean that they do not qualify for any kind of state welfare.

What this means is that this Romani family, which doesn’t have a single work permit amongst it, is free to come and live here even though none of them can work here, seek asylum or claim welfare. Irish law does say that they can be sent home after three months if they cannot support themselves but due to them being citizens of the EU there is nothing to stop them making their way back here straight away.

Reaction to the family’s situation has been mixed. Some, especially in NGOs like Pavee Point, want the Government to step in and provide support for what they deem to be a “humanitarian crisis”. Others want the family deported “back to their own country”. The problem is that, at the moment, neither option is open to the Government.

Due to the route it chose to take before the accession of Romania and Bulgaria it cannot now allow this family to work or claim any kind of welfare. At the same time it cannot stop them coming and staying here and as they have not committed any crime there is no justification in their deportation (at least not until they pass the three-month mark). In other words, it has tied its own hands and can be neither compassionate nor hardline.

As a result of the extremely aggressive Romani beggars, which have become a fact of Irish towns and cities, many here now believe the whole community to be worthy of nothing but their suspicion. Many have stories of Roma children stealing from shops while their parents look on, often encouraging. Many have seen them trying to steal money being withdrawn from an ATM too and there’s no doubt that this happens.

The Irish Times says (subs required) that one of the Rom infants which was taken into care was removed for its mother whilst she was begging in town with it. Apparently she cries every day about this. She can continue to cry all she wants, to be frank, as taking a child out in the lashing of rain to use as currency to extract sympathy (and as a result, cash) is probably one of the most disgusting and irresponsible things a parent can do.

What is confusing, however, is the growing consensus that these scam artists and scumbags are somehow representative of the entire Romani culture and community. There is undoubtedly an increasingly-popular perception is that these people as lazy and good for nothing, plain and simple.

Do people jump to the same conclusions when they see Irish people pulling similar tricks?

The question should be posed – what if these people could work legally; would or could they? While there are unquestionably many lazy people in the Roma community who are willing to live off welfare they don’t deserve, one only has to look at any dole queue in Ireland to realise that this is not a unique attribute of any one culture or ethnicity.

That said, only each individual Rom can know whether they are indeed willing to work for a living, so there’s no point in trying to answer that part of the question here. Assume that they are, however, and you begin to see the real issue at play here that the bi-tonal debate overlooks.

As Pavee Point’s involvement in this case suggests, Roma have much in common with the Traveler community in Ireland, but it’s safe to say that they’re even more isolated and disconnected from the wider community than travelers are here.

A standard trait of any census where Roma are involved is confusion over their population size – this is largely because they have births outside of hospitals and do not register the fact with the authorities. This disconnect with the State continues through life and even the best of cases across the continent show a desperate lack of education amongst the community.

As a result, getting formal employment is difficult at best. If you cannot read, write or do other simple tasks you are at an instant disadvantage. If you don’t have access to basic amenities it’s difficult to make yourself presentable enough to work in many places too. Couple these facts and more with the reality of the suspicion your ethnicity endures and an uphill battle becomes a vertical climb.

Ireland should not change its rules and give handouts to this family, because it would solve nothing. That said, deportation in this situation is simply a national equivalent of the attitude seen towards prisons, landfills and wind turbines – the attitude of “we have no problem with them, but just not in our backyard”.

What is required is a national and international strategy to break the cycle for those who want out of it. You cannot condemn someone to a live of begging just because the trades of their ancestors are now defunct. You cannot condemn someone to live in squalor just because they were never able to go to school. Just ask yourself how you would feel if you started life with absolutely nothing, not even the ability to read, and what you would do if there was no-one willing to help you resolve that fact.

If that was done you can bet that their culture would be seen as no lazier than our own. Of course, some of them would decide that a life of begging and scamming, educational ignorance and squalid living conditions, is what they want, and they can have it, along with our mistrust. Maybe by then people would realise that as is already the case, they’re only representative of themselves, not their culture, family or ethnicity.

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