Traveller ethnicity will be “a reality” in six months, the Minister of State for Equality has said.
Aodhán Ó Riordáin, speaking at an event in Dublin yesterday honouring schools that promote understanding between Traveller and settled children, said a statement would be made to the Dáil “in six months” that Travellers are to be recognised as a distinct ethnic group.
It would be “one of the greatest things we can do to finally celebrate and acknowledge the rich and vibrant culture that the Traveller community have in Ireland,” he said.
The Department of Justice was almost at a position where it could make a statement that there were no adverse implications to granting ethnic status to the community, he said. Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, supported the provision, he added.
In April, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that Traveller ethnicity be recognised. It was "no longer tenable for this State to deny Traveller ethnicity" and it was "long past time for this State to honour our responsibilities to the international conventions on human rights," said the report.
It called on the then Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, to make a statement to the Dáil announcing the State's recognition of Traveller ethnic minority status. The Government should then contact relevant international bodies confirming this recognition, it said.
That recommendation came after a long campaign by Travellers for such recognition, supported by human rights organisations, including the United Nations and the Irish Human Rights Commission.
Mr Ó Riordáin said yesterday the Department had been in intense communication with other Government departments on the possible cost implications of Traveller ethnic status and it was his belief that there was none.
“Irish Travellers have ethnic status in Northern Ireland, they have ethnic status in Britain and I think it’s a requirement. The world community is looking at us now and at what we are doing in our own country.
“I think it is possibly one of the greatest things we can do to finally celebrate and acknowledge the rich and vibrant culture that the Traveller community have in Ireland and to begin to build bridges between Traveller people and settled people.
“It will also be a challenge to the Traveller community to bring the positive nature of their community to the fore. I think we can do that together,” said Mr Ó Riordáin
He was speaking at the annual Yellow Flag awards, hosted by the Irish Traveller Movement, where schools that excel in fostering appreciation of Traveller culture are awarded a yellow flag.
The minister announced €49,000 from his Department for the programme. Now in its sixth year, it had relied on philanthropic support, some of which has ended.
“This support from the Government for the first time is really important and will give it some stability,” said programme co-ordinator, Paula Madden. Currently 52 schools are involved and 33 have been awarded yellow flags.