Traveller ethnicity should be recognised, report says

Ethnic status could create ‘mutual respect’ between Travellers and settled communities

National and local Traveller organisations protesting in Dublin last year. An Oireachtas Committee is calling for Traveller ethnicity to be recognised. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

National and local Traveller organisations protesting in Dublin last year. An Oireachtas Committee is calling for Traveller ethnicity to be recognised. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 10:18

An Oireachtas committee will today recommend that Travellers be recognised as an ethnic minority.

The Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, in a report, will say it is “no longer tenable for this State to deny Traveller ethnicity” and that it is “long past time for this State to honour our responsibilities to the international conventions on human rights”.

It will call on Minister for Justice Alan Shatter to make a statement in the Dáil announcing the State’s recognition of Traveller ethnic minority status and says the Government should then contact relevant international bodies confirming this recognition.

The recommendation comes after a long campaign by Travellers for such recognition, support by human rights organisations, including the United Nations and the Irish Human Rights Commission.

The justice committee held a series of hearings on the issue last year and produced the “Report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity”, written by its rapporteur on the issue, Padráig Mac Lochlainn TD.

Mr Mac Lochlainn, from Donegal, is the first member of the Dáil to come from a Traveller background and last year introduced legislation in private members’ time, which, if passed, would have recognised Traveller ethnicity.

His report will call on the Government, once the first recommendations have been implemented, to build on them by engaging with Traveller groups about how to progress them.

Mr Shatter, in a response to a parliamentary question on the issue earlier this year, said: “I have no immediate plans to introduce such legislation though, as I have indicated in the past, serious consideration is being given to this issue.”

In 2011, he also told the United Nations he was “seriously considering” conferring ethnic minority status on Travellers.

All the main Traveller groups argue Travellers constitute an ethnic minority, given their shared history and culture, their preference for nomadism and their language, albeit now little used.

Recognition of their ethnicity, they say, would confer a sense of pride and value among Travellers, when the overwhelming message they get from wider society is one of disrespect and even hostility.

Proponents have also argued it would give Travellers a sense of responsibility to live up to the status and so, over generations, a mutual respect between the Traveller and the settled communities could be achieved.

Ethnicity would also strengthen the argument to provide Travellers with culturally appropriate housing, healthcare and positive support in accessing education and employment.