Irish travellers close to formal recognition as a distinct ethnic group


The Irish travelling community has received a major boost in its bid to be recognised formally as a distinct ethnic group.
A key parliamentary committee has backed the bid by Irish travellers for formal recognition.
The justice committee of the Irish parliament will now call on the Prime Minister Enda Kenny and Justice Minister Alan Shatter to ratify the call.
The Sunday Times reports that a draft report on traveller ethnicity by Sinn Fein justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn will be approved by members of the justice committee next month.
The paper says the committee will then call on the government to formally recognise the travelling community’s distinct ethnicity.
Martin Collins, a traveller and co-director of the lobby group Pavee Point, told the paper: “If the Taoiseach (prime minister) stood up in the Dail (parliament) and recognised the ethnicity of travellers, it would demonstrate that we belong here.
“My people are an integral part of this island and have been since the 5th century. Recognising our ethnicity would show we are valued and respected for who we are - something we don’t feel at the moment.”
Ireland has yet to follow the lead set by authorities in Britain and Northern Ireland who already acknowledge traveller ethnicity.
The reports says the move would give the travelling community the protection of international human rights conventions for the first time.
Collins added that ethnic status would mean traveller culture would have to be recognised and valued in the Irish education system.
He said: “The Irish government would have to support and facilitate the nomadic lifestyle if it wanted to treat travellers as something more than failed settled people.”
The Sunday Times report also states that Brigid Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement told the justice committee that travellers, ‘once a strong, proud people’, had been devalued within Irish society.
She said: “Never before in my lifetime have I seen such hate as I have seen in the past five years.
“If one opens a newspaper or turns on the television if one looks at Facebook, Twitter or anything at all, anti-traveller sentiment is fired at one. As travellers, we experience this in our daily lives and we try to set about changing that by making people aware of us and by working in partnership with people.”
The draft report from the justice committee argues: “Ireland has maintained a position for decades that amounts to ethnicity denial without having presented any evidence-based defence of this position to our international partners nor indeed the travelling community.
“The formal recognition by this state of traveller ethnicity will not be a magic wand or formula that on its own can address all of those challenges.
“But it will be a major step in the right direction towards a permanent and positive realignment of the relationship between the settled community and the traveller community in Ireland.”