Call to recognise Travellers as a ‘distinct ethnic grouping’

Human Rights commissioner says such a move would help value Traveller culture

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, has called for the enactment of legislation to formally recognise Travellers’ ethnicity. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, has called for the enactment of legislation to formally recognise Travellers’ ethnicity. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

The enactment of legislation to formally recognise Travellers’ ethnicity would be a major step towards achieving equality and the equal valuing of Traveller culture and lifestyle, according to Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Ms Logan said the Traveller community still faced racism, discrimination and disadvantage and to combat that, the commission fully supported calls for their ethnicity to be recognised by the State.

“While the State has yet to give such recognition, the recommendation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality and of Cork City Council and other such bodies have been important steps in the right direction,” she said.

Ms Logan welcomed a statement by Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin that such recognition by the State was “one of the greatest things we can do to finally celebrate and acknowledge the rich and vibrant culture that the Traveller community have in Ireland”.

Mr Ó Ríordáin made his comments in November and Ms Logan said she looked forward to “hearing an announcement in the very near future” from the Government on giving formal recognition to Traveller’s ethnicity through legislation.

Ms Logan was speaking in Cork at an event to mark the 21st anniversary of the founding of the Cork Traveller Visibility Group (TVG). She paid tribute to the group’s founders and volunteers as she highlighted some of the challenges still facing Travellers.

“The link between recognition of ethnicity and better lives for members of the Travellers community is real. The facts demonstrate poorer outcomes in employment, health, education and living conditions than among the settled community,” she said.

Cora Williams, public health representative on the TVG board of management, said the lack of an ethnic identifier made it difficult to gather accurate data on the health issues affecting members of the Traveller community.

“You can’t get exact data on the illnesses particularly affecting Travellers because we don’t have an ethnic identifier on health forms - Travellers were afraid of identifying themselves as Travellers because of the fear of discrimination but there’s an argument for putting it in,” she said.

TVG chair Breda O’Donoghue said the group had achieved much in its 21 years but many challenges remained, in particular the issue of providing accommodation for Travellers in the city.

“There is a crisis in accommodation generally but it’s particularly bad for Travellers - we have over 500 Traveller families in the city and we have a very large number of Travellers living in their parents’ homes or in camper vans at the back of their parents’ homes,” she said.

“Twenty years ago in Cork we had four halting sites in the city- today we still have just four sites and Cork City Council in its most recent five year plan, said there was no need for any more sites and yet we have people living in terrible, detrimental conditions.”