Rights agency head calls for greater appreciation of Traveller culture

Prof Michael O’Flaherty urges better gathering of quality data on Travellers’ lives

The situation of Travellers is “not the fault” of the community, but “the fault of all of us in the settled community” one of the EU’s most senior human rights advocates has warned.

Prof Michael O'Flaherty, director of the Vienna-based Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), said: "We have to acknowledge the deep-rooted racism that still lies in our society. That is going to be the fundamental element in improving the experiences of Travellers."

Speaking on Monday at the publication of the Irish results from a FRA survey of the lives and conditions of Travellers and Roma in six EU member states, he called for better gathering of quality data on Travellers' lives and for greater appreciation of Traveller culture as "one of the great riches of our society".

The survey of six countries – Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom (which has since left the EU) – was published in September and drew on published data and interviews with 4,659 people aged 16 and older self-identifying as Roma, Travellers or Sinti.


Here, indepth interviews were conducted by peer-Traveller researchers in conjunction with researchers from Ipsos MRBI with 518 members of the community.

It finds 31 per cent of Irish Traveller households, including 28 per cent of those with children, were in acute poverty. Irish rates were the highest across the six nationalities.

One tenth of Irish Travellers are in households where at least one person went to bed hungry in the past year, including 7 per cent of homes with children, while 40 per cent had “great difficulties in making ends meet”.

Prof O’Flaherty noted Irish Travellers experienced “one of the worst [levels] of discrimination in the EU – 65 per cent of respondents had experienced discrimination.

“A shocking 70 per cent of 18-to-24 year-old Travellers are not in further education in Ireland. Irish Travellers experienced some of the worst adult employment rates in the EU. Just 17 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men reported that they were in employment and most of them were in part time or precarious employment.”

He described housing for the community as “very worrying” housing situation. Among that statistics are that 73 per cent said they had experienced housing discrimination.

“EU-wide Roma and Travellers are experiencing a perfect storm of fundamental rights deprivation and challenge.” The findings pointed to a “profound underachievement of strategies”.

He called for full inclusion of Travellers in all decisions and policy formation affecting their community’s lives – “and not some kind of tokenistic participation but meaningful going-the-journey-together. That’s what brings results”.

The settled community had “such a long way to go” in appreciating Traveller culture. “One dimension which is under-acknowledged outside the Traveller community is the absolutely central significance of the horse for Traveller life and society. That has to be acknowledged in terms of housing policy,” he said.

He agreed with a call from chief human rights commissioner, Sinéad Gibney, for “improved equality data collection across Government and public bodies . . . o contribute to . . . substantial change for the Traveller community”.

Bridgie Nevin, one of the peer researchers, said it had been difficult to persuade Travellers the "survey was worth doing . . . Travellers are losing heart that things will ever change for the better".

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times