European Commission launches inquiry into treatment of Travellers

Equality director says Ireland may be breaching EU rules on ethnic discrimination

The European Commission says it may issue proceedings against Ireland for alleged discrimination against Travellers.

It has begun an investigation into possible breaches of EU rules on racial equality saying: “The Travellers appear to face discrimination in Ireland in a number of fields, including housing, employment and access to goods and services.”

In an eight-page letter, dated July 6th, 2016, Salla Saastamoinen, director of equality in the commission's directorate-general for justice, consumers and gender equality, refers to the deaths of 10 people at a temporary halting site in Carrickmines, Dublin last year and the eviction of 23 families from an unofficial site in Dundalk, Co Louth, in January.

She cites a 2000 directive – number 2000/43/EC – prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin in such areas as employment, education, housing and healthcare.

Protected by directive

Even though the State does not recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority,

Ms Saastamoinen

says Travellers come within the scope of the directive.

“Whether someone falls under the protection of the directive on grounds of his/her ethnicity cannot be solely dependent on a decision by the member state but must be based on objective criteria.”

There had been repeated calls from such bodies as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, on Ireland to recognise Traveller ethnicity, as Travellers satisfy "internationally recognised criteria".


Travellers are the “most marginalised community in Ireland” she notes, and says the EC directive prohibits discrimination in access to goods and services . . . including housing” – not just direct discrimination.

“It appears local authorities often fail to provide adequate accommodation for Travellers under the Housing Act 1998, while transient sites are needed to enable nomadic Travellers to move.” The Commission’s concerns about anti-Traveller discrimination by local authorities, are demonstrated, she says, by the Carrickmines tragedy and the Dundalk evictions.

“These cases appear to illustrate the overall lack of suitable halting sites.”

She seeks clarifications on several issues, such as the “aim” of the 2002 anti-trespass legislation and how the Government will ensure Traveller accommodation will be provided at local level, and asks for a reply “within the 10-week deadline”.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said a new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy would be rolled out later this year, and run until 2020.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times