Pressure growing over discrimination against Travellers

Rights commissioner Emily Logan says human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe plans to visit Ireland

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Emily Logan: “So there is an international momentum and concern coming up in the next few months, and for us we want to keep that momentum”

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Emily Logan: “So there is an international momentum and concern coming up in the next few months, and for us we want to keep that momentum”

 

International pressure is set to grow in the coming months about discrimination against Travellers and the failure to recognise Traveller ethnicity, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner has warned.

Emily Logan said the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe planned to visit Ireland amid concerns about the treatment of Travellers and Roma.

Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, she said Nils Muižnieks had contacted her on Tuesday evening asking when he could come to investigate. “That is an extraordinary move,” she told the committee.

In addition, Ireland must make a statement to the United Nations next year on racism – including against Travellers – while the European Commission is threatening legal proceedings against the State for discrimination against Travellers.

“So there is an international momentum and concern coming up in the next few months, and for us we want to keep that momentum.”

The committee was hearing submissions on the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. Chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD (Sinn Féin) said the committee was not trying to replace or replicate the work of the last justice committee, which in April 2014 recommended recognition of Travellers ethnicity. The committee stood by that report, he said, and wanted to keep the issue on the political agenda.

Legal barriers

Jonathan O’Brien, TD (Sinn Féin) suggested there was “racism” within the “permanent government” [Civil Service].

Asked what benefit recognition of Traveller ethnicity would be, Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, said Travellers experienced discrimination “several times a day”.

From a young age many felt “shame” in their identity which was internalised, contributing to high levels of depression, ill-health, low educational attainment, unemployment rates of up to 80 per cent and a suicide rate six times that of the settled community.

Recognition of Traveller ethnicity would be “a start” in restoring a sense of dignity, he said. It would also mean Travellers were included in all anti-racism and inter-cultural policies.

He said the preferred method of recognition would be a statement in the Dáil by the minister for justice or the taoiseach of the day affirming Traveller ethnicity. Ethnicity was self-identified and should be recognised. It was not a gift to be bestowed by the State.