Traveller representatives and civil rights groups are accusing establishment politicians of using a recent manslaughter case to promote discrimination against the gypsy-like Traveller community.
The shooting of Traveller John Ward who was confronted by Mayo farmer Padraig Nally led to a campaign to ensure Mr Nally’s liberty by right-wing politicians.
The 61-year-old farmer shot Mr Ward twice and beat him with a stick 20 times when he found him trespassing in his farmyard in October last year.
The controversy over the six-year sentence imposed on Mr Nally led to a number of prejudicial comments against Travellers in the media.
Martin Collins, assistant director of Pavee Point Travellers Centre, said the past two weeks had set the work of the community back five years.
“We as a community have endured a lot over the last couple of weeks. I would regard there has been a systematic targeted attack on us. We have been vilified, demonised and condemned by some sections of the media, and indeed by some sections of the public and by some politicians,” he said.
Traveller organisations said the community was living in fear.
Speaking in Dublin yesterday, Aisling Reidy, director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said Fine Gael was guilty of promoting “a murderer’s charter” by suggesting changes to the law in light of Nally’s conviction for the manslaughter of Mayo Traveller John Ward.
Accusing the opposition party of political opportunism, Ms Reidy said the party’s suggested amendment to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, would allow people to freely commit murder.
She noted that she had attended a Fine Gael conference last summer at which the issue had been discussed, and there had been no clamour to change the law.
However, that view had changed following recent “hysterical” media coverage of the Nally case, which had presented the party with a soft target.
Mr Collins said people must not forget there are crimes perpetrated against Travellers.
“Only last year a Traveller family were sprayed with slurry by a farmer - that got no media coverage, or hardly any, nobody made a big deal about that,” he said.