‘Hearts and minds’ of settled people vital to press Traveller ethnicity

Pavee Point chief dismayed at Minister for Equality’s comments on ‘Travellers’ rights’

Fine Gael TD and Minister for Equality David Stanton:  Addressed the annual Traveller Pride awards in Dublin. Photograph: The Irish Times

Fine Gael TD and Minister for Equality David Stanton: Addressed the annual Traveller Pride awards in Dublin. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

The hearts and minds of the settled population must be won over before Traveller ethnicity can be recognised, the Minister of State for Equality has said.

David Stanton was speaking at the annual Traveller Pride awards in Dublin, and said that while granting Traveller ethnicity would have no cost implications, or confer any additional rights on Travellers, many in the settled community would have concerns.

“So it seems . . . the really challenging area of work that remains to be done on recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group is explaining what’s involved to everyone else and bringing the settled community along with us.

“What I want to do today is seek your advice and . . . to start a discussion with you and with Traveller organisations about winning the hearts and minds of Irish society in general, [on] how we can inform and educate people and how we should respond to questions which might arise, so we can achieve – and this is a personal statement from me – our common objective.”

His comments drew anger from a number of those present, who said it was “inappropriate” to suggest Travellers needed the “permission” of the majority population to have their ethnicity recognised.

Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point, said he was “very disappointed” with the Minister’s comments. He asked would it be appropriate for women to have to ask men for the right to vote.

“This is not an issue for the settled people. It’s an issue for Travellers and for Government to show leadership on Travellers’ rights,” he said.

UN commitment

In Geneva last month, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, had told the United Nations that Traveller ethnicity would be addressed in the forthcoming Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, he said.

Mr Collins said Mr Stanton appeared to be “moving the goalposts again”.

Hugh Friel of the Donegal Traveller Project said it seemed settled people were being asked to “endorse or evaluate” Travellers as an ethnic minority. “We know as Travellers who we are and who we belong to,” he said.

Among the recipients of seven awards at the ceremony were a 12-year-old, two-title world handball champion, a residents’ group formed to improve dreadful living conditions and a young man who is the first Traveller to study at Cork Institute of Technology.

Mikey Kelly (12), from Galway, won in the sports category and was the overall winner, in recognition of his achievements at the world handball championships in Calgary, Canada, last year. He won gold in the under-11 category, for singles and doubles.

“I started playing when I was eight. My brother Jamie taught me, and my father. I do it in school and in the GAA too. It’s great to get this award.” Asked what’s next, he said the Irish handball championships in Castlebar, Co Mayo, next month. “And I’d like to get handball recognised as an Olympic sport.”

TJ Hogan (21) from Cork, has overcome dyslexia and been written off in school as “the one put at the back of the class”. He is now entering his final year in Cork Institute of Technology, studying community development. He won in the education category.

Other winners included the Spring Lane community group, which continues to campaign for better living conditions at the Cork city site, regarded as having some of the worst conditions in the State.