A LEADING charity representing Travellers in Britain has called on Home Secretary Priti Patel to apologise for “vile”statements made about the community which constitute “hate speech”.
The Traveller Movement, based in Holloway Road, north London, has written an open letter to Ms Patel calling for a public apology for comments made during an event where she referred to Travellers as “violent” and “criminal”.
The Home Secretary was speaking during a Zoom event hosted by the Board of Deputies for British Jews.
When asked about site allocation for Travellers, Ms Patel said: “The Home Office's work in this particular area actually refers to some of the criminality that takes place, and that has happened through Traveller communities and unauthorised encampments.”
She added: “Now that's very different to Gypsy and Roma communities. The two are absolutely separate. Where we have seen criminality, violence taking place."
The letter from the Traveller Movement - which has more than 80 signatories, including the Irish in Britain organisation as well as parliamentarians, academics, NGOs and activists - calls for a retraction of the statement and a full apology from Ms Patel to the Irish Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities.
“We write to express our concerns regarding your recent anti-Traveller comments made during an online event with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, where you referred to Travellers on unauthorised sites as criminal and violent,” the letter states.
“These comments are completely unacceptable and discriminatory in the extreme, especially coming from a Home Secretary.
“Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers are protected from race discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. We consider your comments during this meeting to constitute hate speech as it brands an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent.”
The letter, sent on September 24, adds: “You have a duty as a public figure to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and encourage good relations between all groups.
“Your comments not only pit ethnic groups against one another; they also single out an entire ethnic group as criminal and violent.
“As you will be aware, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers experience some of the highest levels of discrimination, hate and hostility of all ethnic groups.”
MPs John McDonnell, Nadia Whittome, Zarah Sultana and Claudia Webbe have all signed the letter.
Professor Colin Clark, of the University of West Scotland, and Dr Sindy Joyce, of the University of Limerick, are among the academics on the list of signatories.
Chris McDonagh, of the Travellers Against Racism organisation, former MEP
Julie Ward and Brian Dalton, CEO of Irish in Britain, are also on the long list of names supporting the call for the Home Secretary to apologise.
Commenting on the letter, Chair of the Traveller Movement, Pauline Anderson, said: “We are shocked to hear such comments being made by the Home Secretary. She effectively brands a whole ethnic group as violent and criminal. This wouldn’t happen to any other ethnic group. It’s a disgrace.”
Traveller Movement CEO Yvonne MacNamara added: “We find these comments objectionable in the extreme.
“Gypsies and Travellers already experience very high levels of discrimination and are often reluctant to report hate crimes committed against them. Now we know why.
“These comments are vile. We demand an immediate apology from the Home Secretary.”
There was been no response from the Home Office to the letter.