Today the State is finally recognising Irish Travellers as an indigenous ethnic minority. The Irish Traveller community have fought to be recognised as an identity by the Irish Government for over 25 years. The community is often discriminated against by landowners who reject their camp sites which forces travellers to camp illegally. Enda Kenny is due to address the Dáil at 6.45pm today to make the announcement.
It is news that will no doubt be celebrated by the 30,000 plus Irish travellers across Ireland. RTÉ spoke to Brigid Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement organisation who shared her joy about the news:
"We want every Traveller in Ireland to be proud of who they are and to say that we're not a failed set of people... We have our own unique identity and we shouldn't take on all of the negative aspects of what people think about us... We should be able to be proud and for that to happen our State needed to acknowledge our identity and our ethnicity and they're doing that today."
Discrimination towards Travellers is a daily and regular occurrence specifically in relation to being refused access to goods and services. As the Irish Traveller Movement have repeatedly highlighted, there is a specific lack of recognition of Travellers in the school curriculum, the local authorities inability to address the nomadic needs of Travellers and offering substantial healthcare in terms of implementing the medical card scheme for Travellers who frequently move.
The sudden decision to make the announcement today was not coincidental. The Irish Times reported that last year the European Commission and other international human rights organisations threatened legal action against Ireland for its treatment of Travellers. The ESRI (The Economic and Social Research Institute) discovered several statistics that have highlighted the plight of the Irish Traveller community in Irish society. 29% of Travellers from the ages of 35-54 suffer with bad health. Housing, although traditionally nomadic, has little benefits in terms of central heating, piped water or sewerage facilities. Only one in ten travellers have completed secondary school education. Dorothy Watson, author of the ESRI report noted that “The results highlighted the significance of education — both the extent of the educational disadvantage of Travellers and the importance of education in enabling them to move out of unemployment and poverty.”
The next step after Kenny's address will be the publication of the National Strategy on Travellers and Roma people which will target areas such as education, health and accommodation and will focus on tactically improving those areas. The announcement is a positive step in the right direction for a minority that have been vastly underrepresented in Irish life but the ESRI report highlights the need for us to continue the conversation.