UN group seeks ethnic status for Travellers


TRAVELLERS SHOULD be recognised as an ethnic group and granted political representation, racial profiling by the Garda should be proscribed and the direct provision system for asylum seekers should be reviewed, according to the UN committee charged with combating racial discrimination.

The Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issued its report on Ireland’s progress yesterday, following hearings in Geneva and discussions with Government representatives and NGOs concerned with tackling racial discrimination.

The report outlines both positive aspects of Ireland’s record and issues which require attention. These issues will now be considered by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

The committee noted positively the establishment of a new Office of the Minister for Integration and the establishment of a ministerial council for migrant integration.

It also commended various initiatives over the past number of years, including the setting up of the Garda Ombudsman Commission, a national strategy on domestic and sexual violence and the ratification of UN conventions on trafficking.

However, the committee expressed “grave concern” at the disproportionate cuts suffered by various human rights institutions under the last administration and called for enhanced efforts to protect people from racial discrimination in the recession.

The committee also expressed concern at the State’s “persistent refusal” to recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority despite its earlier recommendations, and pointed out that they satisfied the internationally recognised criteria for such a group.

Recognition as an ethnic group would bring Travellers within the ambit of various protections in international agreements.

It also regretted that nothing was done about its previous recommendation that the State improve the representation of Travellers in political institutions, particularly in the Dáil or the Seanad, or encourage them to participate in public affairs.

In relation to asylum seekers, the committee expressed concern at the negative impact “direct provision” had on the welfare of asylum seekers who, due to the delay in processing their applications, spent lengthy periods in direct provision, often leading to health and psychological problems, including serious mental illness.

The committee called for a review of the system and for the speedy processing of applications.

It also called for the establishment of an independent refugee appeals tribunal, for the existing draft legislation on racial discrimination to be improved and to be passed into law.

The committee called for immediate measures to protect the rights and welfare of unaccompanied children seeking asylum, including the appointment of a guardian ad litem for all unaccompanied children, whether seeking asylum or not.

The State should also establish mechanisms to encourage the reporting of racist incidents and crimes, and a racial motive should be an aggravating factor in sentencing, it said.

The committee noted “with regret” that many non-Irish people were subject to police stops and asked to produce identity cards, pointing out this had the potential to perpetuate racist incidents, and called for legislation to prohibit racial profiling by the Garda.

The report was welcomed by the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Euopean Network against Racism (ENAR Ireland) and the Travellers organisation, Pavee Point.

ENAR called on the new Government to use the report to prioritise the actions against racism set out in the programme for government.

Dr Maurice Manning, president of the human rights commission, welcomed in particular the observation that cuts in the budgets of organisations protecting human rights should not result in the limitation of their activities.

Martin Collins, director of Pavee Point, called on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to implement the recommendation on the representation of Travellers by nominating a Traveller to the Seanad.

Anastasia Crickley, the Irish member of the UN body, pointed out that the concluding observations echoed those made by the UN committee in earlier reports, and said it stressed the need in recessionary times to enhance efforts to protect people from racial discrimination.