Labour Minister and TD absent for vote on Traveller ethnicity
Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway absent as the Government rejects a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers
Labour Minister of State Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Ciara Conway, who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal, were absent for the vote. Photograph: Eric Luke/ The Irish Times
The Government last night rejected a Sinn Féin motion calling for the State to grant ethnic minority status to Travellers by 58 to 39 votes.
Labour Minister of State Aodháin Ó Ríordáin and party colleague Ciara Conway who spoke in favour of the Sinn Féin proposal were absent for the vote.
Labour chief whip Emmet Stagg said afterwards that theirs was an “agreed absence” and those who were required to be present for the vote attended.
Representatives of the Travelling community were in the public gallery for the debate and one shouted “shame on you” after the vote denying them ethnic minority status.
In an impassioned speech on the first night of the two-night debate, Mr Ó Ríordáin said that everyone in the Dáil should stand by truth and “the truth is that the Travelling community in this Republic are a distinct ethnic group” and they deserved recognition.
Human rightsMs Conway, said all that was required was for the Taoiseach to make a statement to the Dáil, write a letter to the relevant international human rights agencies that it was granting ethnicity and speak to Traveller representatives about relevant legislation.
Ms Conway said “essentially we’re waiting on someone to make a speech or write a letter while people’s lives are hanging in the balance”.
Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, who introduced the motion, said Mr Ó Ríordáin and Ms Conway had used powerful words.
He had expected them to vote with the Government, even though they had expressed their frustration and anger with their Government colleagues.
He would not attack them for that but wanted to say to those Government colleagues that “it is time to be on the right side of history”.
BigotryMr Mac Lochlainn said he hoped next year Traveller representatives would also be in the Dáil when the taoiseach of the next government would make the belated announcement granting ethnicity.
His party colleague Dessie Ellis also called for the next taoiseach to appoint a Traveller to the Seanad.
He said it would be very important and encouraging to see that change, adding that it was time to stand up at institutional level to bigotry against Travellers, Mr Ellis said. “They are every bit as Irish as you or me.”
Fine Gael TD Tom Barry said, however, they should remove emotive language such as “racism” from the debate. He said that with rights came responsibility.
He said Travellers wanted different things and had different visions and that was fine.