On 1 March, the Irish government formally recognised Travellers as a distinct ethnic minority in a statement to the Dáil by An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny. The statement follows years of campaigning from the Traveller community for recognition of their distinct ethnicity, as well as a recent report from the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality stating that “Travellers are, de facto, a separate ethnic group” that the State ought to acknowledge formally.
Recognition has been called for repeatedly by a range of international human rights organisations, including the European Commission that in July last year threatened legal proceedings against Ireland for its treatment of Travellers. More than 30,000 Travellers live in Ireland and a recent report by the ESRI highlighted the “extreme disadvantage” suffered by Travellers across a range of indicators, including health, housing, education, employment and mortality. Recognition of Traveller ethnicity “could be of considerable benefit in ensuring respect for the cultural identity of Travellers in the context of targeted services,” according to the report. Pavee Point advocate that the recognition of Traveller ethnicity is an important acknowledgement that Travellers experience racism and discrimination.
The Traveller community is now the only group to have their ethnicity recognised domestically; ethnicity is defined as belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition, distinct from your nationality or place of birth. An ethnic group is made up by people who share certain characteristics such as culture, language, religion and traditions.
Recognising Traveller ethnicity will not immediately confer any new rights upon the community; discrimination against Travellers is prohibited under both the Employment Equality Acts 1998–2015 and the Equal Status Acts 2000–2015. Traveller ethnicity will now ensure, however, that the community enjoy the protections and benefits that flow from international agreements – such as the International Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination – and EU legislation alongside other ethnic groups.
Recognition is a symbolic step in distinguishing the Traveller community’s separate culture and heritage. In his statement, An Taoiseach recognised “the inequalities and discrimination that the Traveller community faces”, stating that the publication of the National Strategy on Travellers and Roma People will help to deal with these issues. The Strategy will set out a range of actions across certain areas, including education, employment and accommodation.
Click here for the full transcript of the Taoiseach’s statement.