“As Taoiseach I wish now to formally recognise Travellers as a distinct ethnic group with the Irish nation. It is a historic day for our Travellers and a proud day for Ireland.”
On the night of Wednesday March 1st, 2017, Enda Kenny made a statement in the Dáil formally recognising the unique standing of the Traveller community that had campaigned for ethnic status for almost four decades.
What is an ethnic group?
An ethnic group is an involuntary group (i.e. one is born into it) that sees itself and is seen by others as different. Everybody has an ethnicity and belongs to an ethnic group. The term ‘ethnic group’ has a wide meaning it is not the same as race, nationality or place of birth. An ethnic group can be described as a group of people who share some or all of the following:
– A similar history or background – Religion – Culture – Language – Geographical origin
There is no conflict between nationality and ethnicity, Travellers are no less Irish, but have a dual identity of being – both Irish and Traveller.
Why did Travellers want to be recognised as an ethnic minority?
As a Traveller having my identity recognised, defined and included within Irish society by specific and positive reference to my cultural group, would enhance my pride of place in Irish society my sense of being part of – rather than separate to. Maria Joyce – Traveller
Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic group was fundamentally about respect and inclusion, about recognising the dignity of Traveller culture and acknowledging the valuable contributions Travellers have made to Irish society.
It also took account of the inequalities Traveller experienced such as high mortality; Traveller Men live 15 years and Traveller Women 11 and a half years less that their settled peers, suicide is 6 times and infant mortality 5 times the National average. There is 84% unemployment and a significant gap between the participation and attainment of Traveller children compared with their settled counterparts.
Failure to recognise Travellers ethnicity further excluded an already marginalised group, contributing to low self-esteem, poor self-image and a lack of pride in Traveller cultural identity
Without recognition of their status Travellers were usually excluded from anti-racism policies and protections and and are automatically included in anti-racism and integration policies and initiatives, where they arise .
Symbolically, the State’s acknowledgement of their distinct ethnicity should help to validate and support Traveller’ s place in Irish society and can potentially elevate their status in the mind-set of all citizens In Ireland.
Are Travellers recognised as an ethnic minority in other jurisdictions?
– In Northern Ireland, Travellers are recognised as a distinct racial group by the Race Relations Order 1997.
– Travellers have been recognised as an ethnic minority group in the UK since August 2000.
Before the Irish State , who else recommended that Ireland recognise Traveller as an ethnic minority?
- The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality (2017):
- The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality (2014): That either the Taoiseach or the Minister for Justice and Equality make a statement to Dáil Eireann confirming that this State recognises the ethnicity of the travelling community.
- The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (2015): IHREC recommends that the Government formally recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority as a matter of priority and ensure greater legal protection for this vulnerable group. The UN Committee on Economic,
- Social and Cultural Rights (2015):The Committee recommends that the State party expedite its efforts to give legal recognition to Travellers as an ethnic minority and include them as an ethnic minority in antidiscrimination legislation.
- The UN Human Rights Committee (2014): The State party should take concrete steps to recognize Travellers as an ethnic minority group.
Recognising Travellers as an ethnic minority group is not a panacea and will not address all of the challenges faced by the Traveller community however; it is a progressive step on the part of the state and mean that Travellers are automatically included in anti-racism and integration policies and initiatives.
The State’s priority now must be to give real effect to the everyday lives of Travellers ensuring their future as a minority group must be equal in opportunity to the majority population .
Links and reports
Taoiseach announces State recognition of Traveller ethnicity – March 1st 2017
Joint Committee on Justice and Equality Report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity – January 2017
Oireachtas Joint Justice Committee Hearings – November 2016
Dail Debate – Oireachtas Report – Recognition of Traveller ethnicity – June 6th 2017
Oireachtas Joint Justice Committee Hearings – April 17th 2013
Oireachtas Joint Justice Committee Hearings – June 2013
Oireachtas Joint Justice Committee Hearing November 13th 2013
Houses of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality Report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity – April 2014