Continuing our series of ‘Letter Bombs’ – this as Ellie Dooks takes on Labour’s hapless Brian Donohoe MP:
Below is an email I sent to MP Brian Donohoe this evening in response to his comments about Travellers in the Ayrshire Post. This article is now available online, but with a heading different to that in the printed version, which is “Enough is enough! MP Blasts Travellers” You can read the online version here: http://www.ayrshirepost.net/2011/07/01/third-eviction-order-serviced-on-ayrshire-travellers-102545-28962242/ I thought his response to my first email, which came after only a half hour, was even more offensive and ignorant than his original comments had been. I responded accordingly.
From: Eleanor Dooks To: DONOHOE, Brian Cc: John Allan and Harry Garland
Subject: Response to your comments in the Ayrshire Post
Subject: Response to your comments in the Ayrshire Post
Dear Brian Donohoe MP, I am writing to you in response to an article I have just read in the Ayrshire Post, published today. The article is about the Travellers who are currently stopping in Mossblown, and mostly it features your reported comments on the situation. I was compelled to let you know how upsetting and disturbing I found the statements you made, and in particular the language you chose to describe the people involved and the way this complex situation should be dealt with.
It is offensive to refer to the arrival of any group of people in Ayrshire as a “scourge”, and it’s shameful that you find it acceptable to say this about Travelling People. Your comments are racist, and they are exactly the kind of remarks that encourage the fear of Travellers so common among the settled population, which leads often to violence and intolerance on both sides. I think it is really irresponsible of you as a public figure to make such remarks to the media. I was also uncomfortable with your choice of wording for your suggestion on how to resolve the issue. You call it the “Tamworth Solution”. This is reminiscent of a phrase used by Adolf Hitler when he wished to eradicate Gypsies and Travellers as part of his Holocaust. Surely it would be wise to avoid such connotations when discussing what is essentially the removal of a group of people you clearly dislike, off what you consider to be your patch. I find it revealing that you felt this turn of phrase was appropriate.
If you would like to open your mind to another possibility for living together harmoniously, and learn about Travelling people and the difficulties they face, I would invite you to read the following 2009 report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is called “Gypsies and Travellers: Simple Solutions for Living Together”.
You can find it online here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/key-projects/good-relations/gypsies-and-travellers-simple-solutions-for-living-together/ I have copied this email to the Ayrshire Post, to John Allan, and to Harry Garland for information. Yours sincerely, Eleanor Thom Ayr resident, PhD student at UWS, and author of The Tin-Kin, (Duckworth, 2009)
HIS REPLY (read this with blood boiling): — On Wed, 29/6/11,
Dear Eleanor You make the fundamental error of believing there is ANY connection between ‘race’ and the ‘Travelling People’
You take a very ‘romantic’ view which for someone so intelligent is extremely concerning I have spend 20 years examining the situation trying to ‘connect’ with the ‘Travellers’ who have singularly failed to demonstrate any responsibility for the actions that cause so much grief Perhaps you should do the same before accusing me of making outrageous statements I have also copied this email to the Ayrshire Post Brian H Donohoe MP Central Ayrshire
AND MY REPLY: Wednesday, 29 June, 2011, 23:35
Dear Brian Donohoe MP, Thank you for your very fast reply to my email. I’m afraid your suggestion that there is no connection between ‘race’ and ‘travelling people’ is not correct at all. I would like to draw your attention to the following statement made by the Scottish Government: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/Equality/gypsiestravellers/ethnic I have no romantic notions about Travelling people. I am from a Travelling family that settled in the early part of the last century, and I still have cousins who travel permanently in Scotland. I am very aware of issues on both sides, and having worked with Travellers as well, I am aware of acute problems with attitudes both within the Travelling community and within the settled population.
If you have spent 20 years trying to communicate with Travellers and have yet to do so successfully on any occasion, perhaps you are going about it in the wrong way. Making such comments in the press, referring to a group of people as a “scourge” could rightly be taken the wrong way by any community, don’t you think? I do hope you will look at the report I mentioned in my earlier email. I wrote to you because the wording of your statements upset me, and I wanted to point out that the implications were there, whether intended or not. Yours, Eleanor Thom
FURTHER CORRESPONDENCE ADDED THIS MORNING: — On Thu, 30/6/11,Date: Thursday, 30 June, 2011, 0:28
Eleanor You underestimate me as far as this issue is concerned If you think I haven’t researched this subject you are sadly mistaken and rather naive. I have had your ‘cousins’ at my office indeed have travelled to Perth and elsewhere in the UK to meet ‘genuine Travellers’ but experience of the rogues who unfortunately cause me to come to the conclusion that there is no structure to the Community you try to defend are at present in my Constituency and no doubt will again cause grief in Mossblown having done so in Prestwick and this week caused major problems in Irvine.
As the Joint Chairman of the Showman’s All Party Group in the House of Commons my record of defending the responsible ‘Nomad’ population is there for anyone to see. With your background I would have thought you would have known that. Brian H Donohoe MP Central Ayrshire
Dear Brian Donohoe MP, Thank you again for your email. I was not aware of your work with the Showman’s All Party Group. While I’m sure you do very good work with them, that does not in my mind make it alright for you to cast gross generalisations about an entire group of people in the press. With your background, I would have expected you to know that. What exactly do you mean by “genuine Traveller”? That is in itself a very questionable statement, and I can only assume you mean Travellers who were forced into houses, assimilated, and are no longer causing you “grief” by being “rogues”. It may interest you to hear that my Travelling relatives were themselves described in exactly that way by a particular local press last year. They were on a legal campsite at the time.
I’m clearly not the only person who has taken offence at your manner in dealing with Gypsies and Travellers, so to suggest that my doing so is somehow a lack of research on my part is rather a weak argument. Your language would be enough to convince anyone of your prejudice, but if you need further convincing, the quote below is from an article in Frontline Vol 2. Issue 10. July 2009. You can see the full version here: from http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/july09/travellers.html
You are mentioned twice.
“In early 2008, after a series of inflammatory pieces in the local press, an Ayrshire Labour MP Brian Donohoe raised a debate in parliament to discuss the “problem” and put pressure on the Minister to give local authorities more powers to move people on who are perceived as a nuisance. This was backed by other Labour M.P.s including Renfrewshire MP Jim Sheridan, and left unchallenged by their colleagues. The racist language used in Parliament would be familiar to readers of the Daily Express and other tabloids which frequently stir up anti-Gypsy feeling.”
I was pleased to get a more measured reply from Harry Garland, who I copied in on my first two emails and the responses: He says:
Hi, Clearly I am not in a position to publicly comment on your correspondence, I would however indicate that our Council takes the rights and responsibilities relating to travelling people very seriously. I am happy to continue to receive your views and should you wish I would be happy for you to meet with our dedicated staff who work with our travellers to try and get a legitimate balance between their wishes and those of the wider community. A fresh perspective or indeed support and challenge are always welcome. Please let me know if you would like to meet up.
Best wishes Harry Harry M Garland Executive Director South Ayrshire Council
MORE FROM BRIAN DONOHOE: — On Thu, 30/6/11, DONOHOE, Brian
Eleanor I do not withdraw a single word of what I have previously said which is based on the experience of the cost of cleaning up the mess left behind by those ‘travellers’ who come to Ayrshire Were you to use the influence you suggest you have to end the clearly irresponsible behaviour witnessed by events then I would think what you say would have some merit I challenge you to that task as I have to others who have failed to make any difference to the situation we face
Brian H Donohoe MP Central Ayrshire
AND MY RESPONSE: I have not suggested at any point that I have particular influence. I am a member of the public who recognises prejudice and is unprepared to settle for it. I certainly have nowhere near as much influence on policy as you do, as a politician. The task becomes ever harder because of the slanderous comments made constantly by yourself and others with your view. But rest assured I will continue to try and get my point across. And I would still welcome at some point your views on that report, which I believe proposes a far less expensive, and far more intelligent, harmonious way of proceeding than continuing with the current situation, or your bulldozing through anything like your “Tamworth Solution”.
ANOTHER EMAIL FROM DONOHOE: he appears to lose the thread of the argument here as there’s no reference to the report I ask him to comment on, and he is unclear on wherein lies “my problem”. I will try and respond to this later after Ivor’s lunch.
Message begins: There lies your problem Eleanor I no longer given my long experience look at the position of the ‘Travellers’ through ‘Rose Tinted Glasses’ but at what is there for all to see As a consequence of the ‘anarchy’ of those who unfortunately rule the roost I fear we will make little progress as I have with the Showmen and firmly believe that the romantic notion that you portray and with those who wrote the Scottish Executive Report we will NEVER have any semblance of orderly behaviour by those you try to defend Brian H Donohoe MP Central Ayrshire
AN EMAIL FROM COUNCILLOR JOHN ALLAN FOLLOWS. I WILL BE TAKING HE AND HARRY UP ON THEIR OFFER:
Hi Eleanor, Many thanks for your email, as yet I haven’t seen the Ayrshire Post so I’m not in a position to comment. Here in South Ayrshire we have a very good rapport with the travelling community, we have a dedicated site and also dedicated staff who deal with the balance between their wishes and that of others as Harry stated in his reply. As Harry said, it would be great if you wanted to meet up with our staff as your input would be welcomed by all.
Kind Regards, John Electoral Ward 6. Kyle Scottish National Party – Pàrtaidh Nàiseanta Na h-Alba Councillor John Allan