History of Conflict Work in ITM
Even though violence caused by feuding was having a hugely negative impact on the community, there was still remained a reluctance among Traveller organisations to discuss Traveller/Traveller conflict. Initial attempts by ITM staff and board to create a conflict working group in 2006 were unsuccessful and from this a number of informal discussions began to identify why people were unwilling to be involved in this work.
ITM members identified a number of reasons for this sensitivity about the issue, most of which centred on fear of conflict as an issue, such as:
- Fear that talking about conflict would bring up past or existing issues and create further conflict
- Fear that highlighting the issue would draw further negative focus on the community, especially by drawing media attention on the issue and overplaying how prevalent it was and further stereotyping the community
- Fear that people might individually or collectively be drawn into conflict and put themselves, their families or projects at risk of violence
However, a number of serious instances of conflict broke out and the increasing impact on families and the work of Traveller groups meant that the issue could not be ignored. Local groups recognised that something needed to happen but feared that any local intervention that wasn’t developed collectively could lead individuals or groups exposed and make a bad situation worse. Members of ITM called on the organisation to be a lead in developing best practice for Traveller groups to engage in conflict.
In ITM’s 2007 strategic planning with members “anti-social behaviour/conflict” was named as one of the key issues for the organisation. The ITM Central Group targeted staff and board time and some resources to develop a response to Traveller/Traveller conflict.
ITM’s response to addressing the issue: starting the journey in 2007
The board of ITM recognised that the first step for the Movement was to begin to engage outside expertise to help us understand the issue of conflict at a broad level before looking at the specifics of Traveller/Traveller conflict.
ITM engaged the expertise of an external consultant (John Mullgian, Breakthrough Consultancy) to begin looking conflict, analysing what it meant to us as a membership organisation, to Travellers and to wider society. Workshops were held with staff and management and members to begin to frame what we meant by conflict before we could look at how to manage it. ITM hosted a national seminar in 2008 with membership to look at issues and current practice in managing conflict and it was the key theme at our 2008 AGM in Athlone, which allowed ITM to develop a sense of the scale of the issue.
ITM Members identified he need for a culturally sensitive approach to conflict alongside existing state laws and mechanisms. ITM as an organisation recognised that Traveller culture has had its own ways of dealing with conflict to date including use of elders, moving on, staying quiet, fist fighting, religious and outside experts, etc.
However, many of the ways in which Travellers have traditionally dealt with conflict are not widely known or understood outside the community.
We recognised that some of these methods are no longer as effective as they once were due to the changed circumstances in which the Traveller community finds itself in contemporary Ireland and some are unacceptable to the settled community just as some settled ways are not accepted in Traveller culture. On that basis we looked to develop our programme in looking at conflict management. Our very first developments were for ITM as a collective to agree a vision and set of values in relation to conflict:
Starting Point: Agreeing our Vision and values regarding conflict
ITM members agreed the following values in relation to conflict work:
- Creating safe non-violent spaces for families to live and bring up their children and improve quality of life.
- Improving relationships by creating a climate of trust and dialogue around contentious issues between Traveller and Traveller and between Travellers and the settled community
- Building a shared Traveller identity that all Travellers feel proud of and that is known and valued by the settled community.
- Naming of abuse and alleviating suffering to protect the vulnerable and prevent or repair damage arising out of conflict.
- Pursuing non-violent means of managing conflict to achieve desired goals and aspirations.
- Promoting new and healthy ways of dealing with conflict to strengthen relationships between all parties both Traveller and settled.
- Strengthening Traveller culture to enact shared identity and support collective responsibility for it while respecting individual and family diversity.
- Addressing structural violence and internalised oppression – to heal/ repair the impact of collective extended and continuing marginalisation and disempowerment and abuse suffered as an ethnic minority
Pilot programme: Transforming Tension and Conflict into Positive Change: Strengthening board Practice
Once principles and values were agreed, funding was secured to work through with boards of organisations to see how conflict management strategies could be embedded into the organisations, working with boards and staff to develop a greater understanding of conflict, its origins and how best Travellers and Traveller organisations can become conflict aware.
This project started in October 2012 and finished in July 2013. Participants were made up of board and staff members of the Irish Traveller Movement, Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project and Clondalkin Traveller Development Group. Training took place over 12 full day sessions and with each organisation tasked with project work and learning sets whereby participants met between sessions.
The training was developed by and facilitated by Breakthrough Consultancy in conjunction with the participants on this programme and much of the framework for this resource is based on the learning from this. This resource is not only testament to John Mulligan but the honesty and expertise of the participants in making this resource specific to Traveller organisations