The public service should set a target for the employment of Travellers, including an annual internship programme, to help reduce high unemployment levels in the community, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
Martin Ward, founder of Bounce Back Recycling (BBR)in Galway, which provides employment to the community, said it was a "myth" that Travellers "don't want to work". He said that since the recycling company was founded in 2017, staff numbers have grown from three to 16.
“We have busted the myth that Travellers don’t want to work. We have people knocking on our doors every day of the week looking for jobs,” he told the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Travelling Community.
“The sad fact is we have to turn them away because we can’t be the only employer of Travellers in Galway.”
The committee heard Traveller unemployment is running as high as 88 per cent with low educational attainment and racism cited as factors.
Anne Costello, coordinator of the Travellers in Prison Initiative, said the Government must aim for a public sector representative of the population.
"Any new public sector recruitment campaign has to have provision for targeting Travellers. We need a Government internship campaign similar to those in Australia across all government departments and public bodies," and internships must lead to "proper" jobs.
Mr Ward said there were jobs in the public service that Travellers could do and he called for all public procurement contracts to stipulate that minorities like Travellers be employed.
“Let’s start by putting in some targets,” he said.
When BBR began delivering home insulation as part of the warmer homes initiative from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), there were negative comments from customers who did not want to Travellers in their homes, he said.
“There was that much racism against the community but we had the full backing of the SEAI at the time…because we were on the panel of contractors for the warmer homes and delivering a 100 per cent pass-rate on the work. That gave us an awful lift that we had such backing and weight behind us that there was going to be no tolerance of discrimination,” said Mr Ward.
Dr Kara McGann, head of social policy with the employers' group Ibec, said it was "essential" that the Department of Social Protection, through its Intreo offices, ensure specific actions were taken to "increase Traveller engagement" in becoming workplace-ready.
Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuív said he often heard it said that Travellers do not want to work. The Galway West deputy noted that as a child he used to hear that "people from Connemara don't want to work".
“I think that one has been disproved. Give people the incentive most people want to work and most people do work. So we should dismiss that as a valid argument.”