Irish Republican News · November 26, 2016
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
Kenny reported ready to accept traveller ethnicity


In an apparent breakthrough for civil rights campaigners, the Dublin government has indicated it will support the recognition of Travellers’ distinct ethnic identity.

The origins of Ireland’s gypsy-like community remains unknown, although evidence points to an origin over a thousand years ago. A proud and distinct community, Irish travellers have shared the island with the settled community for centuries, but in modern times have endured discrimination, marginalisation and hate crime.

After years of campaigning by Sinn Fein and other left wing groups, the 26 County Taoiseach Enda Kenny told journalists on Wednesday that there were no constitutional bars to recognition of traveller ethnicity. A report on the matter is expected in a few weeks, he said, and it is understood the government will shortly start making legal preparations for the move.

Recognition as an ethnic minority has long been sought by representatives of the Traveller community but has been consistently refused by successive governments.

The Justice Committee of the Dublin parliament recently held hearings on the issue after the European Commission began an investigation into possible breaches of EU rules on racial equality.

Announcing its investigation last summer, the commission said: “Travellers appear to face discrimination in Ireland in a number of fields, including housing, employment and access to goods and services.”

A number of UN committees have also called on the 26 County state to recognise Traveller ethnicity in recent years, as have state bodies such as the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission.

Although Travellers have been specifically protected as a group by anti-discrimination laws, Traveller representatives say they still regularly experience discrimination in many aspects of their lives.

In a statement, the Pavee Point support group said: “Recognition of Traveller ethnicity will be a major step forward for Travellers, cultural diversity and equality in Ireland - especially in the centenary year of a Proclamation that promises to cherish all the children of the State equally.”

It said that recognition would help the ethnic group’s standing with the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the European Commission and other international organisations.

The Taoiseach’s statement “makes me proud to be Irish”, added Martin Collins, director of Pavee Point.

“Finally our community will have the recognition we deserve,” he said. “No longer will Travellers be looked upon as settled people gone wrong. We will have our rightful place in Irish society.”

Pavee Point’s Ronnie Fay added that by recognising Traveller ethnicity, the State was acknowledging its respect for Traveller culture and identity.

“We are ensuring that Travellers can be proud of their heritage and look forward to a future that takes into account their cultural identity,” said Ms Fay.

“While we realise that recognition of Traveller ethnicity is not going to solve all the problems that Travellers face it is vital in terms of bringing Traveller inclusion to the fore front in service provision and policy implementation.”

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams TD gave the news a cautious welcome.

He said: “I raised this matter with the Taoiseach last week. I told him then that there was no legislative or constitutional bar on him recognising Traveller ethnicity immediately. It only requires him or a nominated Minister to make a statement in the Dail.

“I welcome news reports that he plans to do this in the New Year. I ask that he or the Minister of State David Stanton consult with representatives of the Traveller community about the substantive statement that would accompany recognition of Traveller ethnicity.”

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© 2016 Irish Republican News