Traveller poverty will take decades to address, says Minister

Education and accommodation key elements of Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy

An an open day at Exchange House National Traveller Service, Naomi Power, Winona O’Reilly and Reanna Stokes. Photograph:  Tommy Clancy

An an open day at Exchange House National Traveller Service, Naomi Power, Winona O’Reilly and Reanna Stokes. Photograph: Tommy Clancy

 

It could take several generations for the poverty and marginalisation experienced by Travellers to be fully addressed, Minister of State for Equality David Stanton has said.

Speaking at the publication of the first National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy on Tuesday, Mr Stanton said much could be achieved, however, in four years if all parties remained committed. He would be “watching” his successor in the office to ensure they implemented the strategy, he added.

Running from now until 2021, the strategy includes 149 actions to be taken across 10 areas including education, children and youth, accommodation and public services.

On the key issue of accommodation – of the over 10,000 Traveller households counted last year, more than 1,499 were living in overcrowded or unauthorised sites – it says a forthcoming Housing Agency review of local authorities’ delivery of Traveller accommodation will be studied. The Department of Housing’s capital budget for Traveller accommodation will also be ring-fenced.

Imposing sanctions on local authorities failing to deliver adequate Traveller accommodation would be a “very last resort”, he said. “I much prefer to have people working together, sitting down and looking at the issues”.

Education was “key, key, key”.

“If someone has the education and skills, everything else follows. You absolutely do need a good place to live in order to learn, but we have identified that, for instance, after-school clubs are huge for Traveller children. They can go in, get their work done, have a bit of fun and go into school the next day knowing what’s going on. They can keep up. It’s all linked together.”

He said the visiting teacher service for Travellers, and the system of resource teachers for Travellers, both of which ceased in September 2011, “hadn’t been as successful” as they might have been. “I think there are better ways of doing it. Most schools have home-school liaison teachers and they should also link in with the Traveller community.”

Ethnicity

Recognition of Traveller ethnicity had been “crucial”.

“I think it opens all kinds of doors for everybody. The Traveller and settled communities should be able to meet now on a level. It might take some generations to see things sorted and for all young Travellers to reach their full potential.

“The point of this strategy is to bring people together. It won’t be easy. There will be challenges. There are so many strands to it. So it’s going to take a lot of work but the good will is there. The thing now is to ensure these actions are kept on the table. Whoever takes on this job in the next week or week after, I’ll be watching to make sure this is kept tipping over.”