Traveller advocacy groups have welcomed the findings of a DNA study as confirmation of their unique culture and a refutation of the assumption their ethnicity is dated to the Famine.
Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point, said there was no great surprise in the findings of the joint Royal College of Surgeons and University of Edinburgh study because Travellers had always identified themselves as being indigenous to Ireland.
“We have never claimed to be from any exotic European group. We have always claimed to be from the island of Ireland and that is obvious in our names,” he said.
However, the dispelling of the “Famine myth” was the most important outcome, he said.
The notion Travellers had emerged from that chapter in Irish history had, he said, been used to promote policies of assimilation.
“It’s an official confirmation that our communities pre-date the Famine because that was a myth that I was taught in school,” he said.
While welcoming the study, he cautioned that DNA should not be used generally as a means of establishing ethnicity.
“I think that is very dangerous territory. We need to be very careful and not use DNA as a marker or determination of ethnicity.”
The Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) also welcomed the findings as a “validation of distinct cultural difference”.
“It further acknowledges the unique position that Travellers have in Ireland of a dual identity of being both Irish and Traveller,” a spokeswoman said.
“As a country we should be celebrating that rather than it being a difference, it’s about the uniqueness of it not the divide.”
She said the study should be seen as evidence of two distinct cultures who share a history.
The research will be seen as a boost to the ongoing process of having the Traveller community formally recognised as a distinct ethnic group within Ireland.
Last month a report from the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality noted: “Travellers are, de facto, a separate ethnic group. This is not a gift to be bestowed upon them, but a fact the State ought to formally acknowledge, preferably by way of a statement by the Taoiseach to Dáil Éireann.”
It is understood Taoiseach Enda Kenny met Traveller representatives at the Sub-Cabinet Committee on Social Policy earlier this week.