From John Horgan DUBLIN, Sunday THE Irish Hierarchy has
been urged to appoint a national chaplain for Ireland's gypsy population, which is overwhelmingly Catholic. A Government Report, issued this week, calls on the hierarchy to take a special interest in the problems of itinerants, and of their families.
The Report was prepared by a ten-man commission which studied the conditions under which gypsies lived in several other European countries, int-Iodine the Netherlands. There, they consulted with Fr. Theodore Swartkreis, Dean of Haarlem and Netherlands Correspondent of the CATHOLIC HERALD.
Fr. Swartkrcis later visited Ireland and took part in some of the commission's discussions.
Gypsies in Ireland, the report states. are devout but irregular churchgoers like those in the Netherlands. There are few genuine "Romanies" among them, and all but 30 of the 6,000 counted in the last census said they were Catholics.
Most of them live in impoverished conditions, but some, with cars and modern caravans, are thought to be reasonably wealthy.
Instruction As fat as Catholic families arc concerned. parents see to it that their children receive the Sacraments of baptism, penance. Holy Communion and Confirmation, and go to some trouble to enable them to obtain the necessary instruction by remaining long enough in the vicinity of schools and convents where the children can he instructed.
"The Legion of Mary." adds the report, "is very active in this Mc!. and the police refrain from moving on families who remain in one place for this purpose".
The marriage tie between itinerants is not apparently any weaker than it is in other Catholic marriages and. while husband and wife quarrels and beatings are not uncommon. there arc few desertions. The high standard of sexual morality amone travelling families is also emphasised.
The report. which is now being studied by the Government. also contains proposals for the establishment of recognised camping sites for itinerants throughout the country. and condemns the "prevalent hostile attitude" of the settled normlation towards the gypsies. This.git says. is uncharacteristic of the country.
It aims at the eventual absorption of the majority of the travelling people into the settled community, and says that many of them. particularly the girls and women. have expressed a desire to settle down.
The commission was set up three years ago by the Minister for Justice, Mr. Charles llaughey. who remarked at the time that "the humblest itinerant is entitled to a place in the sun and a share in the benefits of our society. His fundamental rights as an individual and his religious beliefs are sacred and i nal ien able".
One of the members of the commission was Fr. Thomas Fehily, then Director of Dublin's Institute of Catholic Sociology. He has since been succeeded by Fr. L. Carey.