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Travellers to be recognised as ethnic minority for first time

  • 01 Mar 2017

Taoiseach to make statement recognising unique identity of Travelling community

Kitty Holland, The Irish Times

Irish Travellers will on Wednesday be recognised as an ethnic minority in Ireland for the first time.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny will make a statement in the Dáil at 6.45pm recognising the unique ethnic identity of the Irish Travelling community. No new legislation is required.

A report recommending recognition was brought to Cabinet on Tuesday by Minister of State with Responsibility for Equality David Stanton. It stressed recognition of Traveller ethnicity would neither confer new rights on the community nor mean any extra costs. No objections were raised at Cabinet.

The announcement will be welcomed by campaigners who have sought recognition for over 25 years.

Step forward

The move will be a symbolic step forward for the 30,000-strong Traveller community. Campaigners believe will be hugely important to improving self-esteem and increasing confidence within the community to address its many challenges.

A spokeswoman for Mr Stanton said: “It’s time to give a little so we can all work together now to improve things for everyone.”

The next step will be the publication of the National Strategy on Travellers and Roma People. It will set out a range of actions across certain areas, including education, employment and accommodation. Ethnicity is a key part of that strategy.

Extreme disadvantage

A report from the ESRI last month highlighted the “extreme disadvantage” suffered by Travellers across a range of indicators, including health, housing, education, employment and mortality.

Recognition of Traveller ethnicity “could be of considerable benefit in ensuring respect for the cultural identity of Travellers in the context of targeted services,” it said.

Also last month, the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality said: “Travellers are, de facto, a separate ethnic group. This is not a gift to be bestowed upon them, but a fact the State ought to formally acknowledge, preferably by way of a statement by the Taoiseach to Dáil Éireann.

“The committee strongly encourages that this step be taken at the earliest date possible in 2017.”

Recognition has also been called for repeatedly by a range of international human rights organisations including the European Commission, which in July last year threatened legal proceedings against Ireland for its treatment of Travellers.

Other organisations putting pressure on Government included the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Ombudsman for Children, and several United Nations committees – most recently by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, earlier this month.