Recognition of ethnicity ‘will slowly but surely make a difference’

Travellers and human rights groups welcome Taoiseach’s statement

 “Wouldn’t it be great if the history of the Traveller people, and our culture,  was taught in the schools?” James Reilly at the Traveller site in Clonshaugh, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

“Wouldn’t it be great if the history of the Traveller people, and our culture, was taught in the schools?” James Reilly at the Traveller site in Clonshaugh, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Father of three James Reilly (34) lives with his family in St Dominic’s Park, on the site of a former dump, off the Malahide Road in Coolock. Some 22 families live there, having cleared the site of rubbish about two years ago. They provide their own electricity and portaloos and have limited access to running water.

He and members of his extended family moved on to the site as they were all either living in overcrowded accommodation, or homeless, or at risk of losing their homes. Initially, Dublin City Council tried to evict them, but the threat has been lifted.

“But it’s hard, especially in the mornings, trying to get the kids out to the school and having to use portaloos in the middle of the night,” Reilly says. “In the winter you can see the frost glistening. We’d like to work with the council to make things better.

“You do feel a lot of services and people just look down on us, that they think these conditions are okay for Travellers. The conditions on this site are common across many Traveller sites.”

It’s a feeling he says most Travellers have about interactions with almost all bodies, whether State institutions, public services or shops.

“You get used to being refused services, to being called names. It makes you want to avoid those situations, to avoid being judged, avoid not being included,” he says. “It does get in on you. It makes you fear even using services sometimes because of how it’s going to make you feel.”

The Government’s recognition of Traveller ethnicity will make a difference to Travellers’ lives, but slowly, he believes.

“It’s been recognised from the very top. That will trickle down and it will slowly but surely make a difference – maybe not immediately, but in time,” he says. “Wouldn’t it be great if the history of the Traveller people, and our culture, was taught in the schools? You hear of young Travellers hiding the fact they are Travellers, like they’re ashamed. But if we were celebrated in the schools, well, Traveller children would be bursting with pride.

“I would hope we’d begin to get some respect when we go looking for services. I don’t think [recognition of] Traveller ethnicity will fix everything overnight. It might not be for our generation to see, but I think it will be a foundation for our children and grandchildren to live better lives.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s statement was also welcomed by various human rights organisations. Emily Logan, chief human rights commissioner with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, said it was “an important message about Ireland’s determination in protecting and respecting the human rights and equality of all people in this State”.

Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon, said it was a “monumental step towards delivering on our commitment to children’s rights”, but also that it must be followed by real action.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said: “This important step signals a final moving away from government policies over the past 50 years which viewed Travellers as the object of assimilationist policies.”