Today the report of the Seanad Committee which examined Traveller’s experience of life in Ireland following recognition of their ethnic minority status was launched making 34 recommendations under nine grounds towards Travellers broader inclusion and called for a Seat at the Political Table for Travellers, the creation of a Safe Welcoming Political Environment for and A Say in Decisions which Impact on Traveller life, provision of Political Education, Respect for and Recognition of Traveller Identity, measures towards Education progression and visibility of culture, Inequality and Discrimination and greater Accountability and Understanding by the State.
The Committee’s examination was the first Traveller specific and extensive consultation with the Community by the Oireachtas since the foundation of the State. Specifically, it set out to look at what life for the community in Ireland is like now and how greater equity and inclusion can be progressed, in particular in decision making and political representation within the State.
The Irish Traveller Movement, Pavee Point, the National Traveller Women’s Forum, Minceir Whiden and the Traveller Counselling Service gave unanimous support to the report at the launch and called on the next Government to prioritise the 34 recommendations to bring about real change for Travellers.
This desire to address the long term consequences of exclusion and discrimination was evidenced in the extensive submissions received by the Committee and across the two hearings held in the Seanad in July 2019.
Senator Kelleher who championed a range of progressive steps in the Seanad towards greater visibility of both Travellers and matters affecting their lives, was rapporteur for the Seanad Public Consultation Committee and said at the launch “Travellers rarely have a seat at the table or a real say in the big decisions that affect them or their families, but are subject to a settled normative system where the dominant majority view holds the greatest authority. They are virtually invisible in formalised national and local politics and public life, including in the upper echelons of the Civil Service or State Agencies. If the historic recognition of their minority ethnic status is to mean anything, we must listen to and heed their voices and others and make the necessary changes towards an Ireland where Travellers can thrive and prosper”.
Reserving a place for Travellers in the Seanad was comprehensively sought and endorsed by the Seanad committee and the timing of the report given the upcoming election of the Seanad, consolidated the hope of Traveller representatives. Bernard Joyce Director of the Irish Traveller Movement said “On behalf of national Traveller interests we make a formal request for the reservation of a place in the Seanad for a Traveller in the coming term under the Taoiseach’s nomination. A Traveller appointed to the Seanad would give added legitimacy to State recognition of our position and a place in the Seanad is in keeping with the goal of increased diversity within the House, and would validate the contribution of the Traveller voice across all facets of Irish life.
A dominant theme throughout the report is the measures needed to tackle the obstacles Travellers encounter in every aspect of their daily lives in order to participate at levels taken for granted by the majority and which is conditioned by their experience of racism, discrimination which is ingrained in all parts of Irish life. According to Chairman of the Committee, Senator Paul Coghlan “I hope that by the publication of this Report and the implementation of its recommendations that we can continue the journey of building a more equal society in Ireland for Travellers and contribute to breaking down the barriers that so far have halted this process. I hope the recommendations will be taken on board by the Government.”
Recommendations: Action and activism by the State to tackle the racism experienced by Travellers head-on was called for with specific recommendations on developing a National Action Plan on Racism, with associated statutory powers when anti-Traveller sentiment is expressed by election candidates. New hate speech law was recommended as well as access to justice through legal aid and other measures for Travellers.
Speaking at the launch , Martin Collins Co-Director of Pavee Point said “This report is a call to action for political leadership to address the deeply rooted and institutional racism that Travellers continue to experience and is supported internationally by both the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Framework Convention in for the Protection of National Minorities December who recommended that the State party take effective and special measures, to improve Travellers representation in political positions at all levels to more adequately reflect the composition of Irish society.”
Recommendation: The formation of panels of Traveller experts for State boards, advisory and consultative fora was also recommended to ensure an informed perspective on development and implementation of key policies affecting Travellers.
Traveller and representative groups have long advocated for Travellers to be represented in matters which affect their lives as a fundamental right, but also for their inclusion in shaping and articulating views in other areas not just as a reflection of diversity, but in recognition of the valuable contribution possible across the mainstream issues facing the nation in national and local settings. Travellers have provided critical insight into community development structures, advocacy principles and the development of legal and human rights frameworks and policies, which have contributed to benefits for all of society.
Speaking on behalf of the all Traveller forum Minceir Whiden, Coordinator Kathleen Sherlock said “Political participation, education and training is vital for the Traveller community, as a voice for change and learning to use our vote’s for greater political representation equally important. The consequences of not having a voice where decisions impacting our lives are made, is all too obvious in the negative outcomes for our Community.”
The Report recommends the following:
• Reserving a seat in the Seanad for Travellers (Taoiseach’s nominee) and introducing Traveller quota system across the Oireachtas, in local democracy, in other decision- making fora and within the Civil and Public Service.
• Set targets for Traveller women in mainstream gender quotas, party political gender quotas and State agencies quotas.
• Introduce a paid Internship Scheme for Travellers in the Civil and Public Service.
• Protect and increase resources for independent national and local Traveller organisations in respect of their work to support Traveller participation and towards broader social inclusion.
Recommendation Enhancing Traveller visibility in the public services was also recommended and implementing anti-racism training for public service professionals with greater accountability of public services where racism occurs and for the establishment of national data collection via an ethnic identifier, across all public services.
Recommendation The Committee also noted the report of the Expert Review Group on the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 and recommended progression on existing National Policy specifically the Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy and the urgent implementation of the National Traveller Health Action Plan. It called for new strategies including the Introduction of a national Traveller Employment and Enterprise Strategy, national Traveller Mental Health Strategy and establishment of an Independent Traveller Accommodation Agency to oversee governance and delivery of Traveller accommodation.
Strong recommendations were made in the course of the public consultation to foster dialogue and Traveller social inclusion. For Traveller culture and history needs to be known, taught, understood and respected. Knowledge of “cultural literacy” for teachers in early, primary and post-primary levels and support for the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018 to be progressed into law.
Recommendation Reflecting the importance of establishing visibility of Traveller’s unique cultural status, recommendation was made for the development of a National Traveller Cultural Centre and Archive was recommended as well as regional hubs for learning Gammon and Cant, languages recognised by UNESCO. There were recommendations on the recognition of nomadism as a cultural expression and not a criminal activity.
There was acknowledgement of the impact of inequality, marginalisation and segregation caused by policies and actions and inactions of the State and the enduring effect on women, children and men, including Travellers who experience additional intersectional disadvantage for reasons including sexuality and disability. As well as the recommendations, there were calls for a State apology.