Four Years on From State Acknowledgement of Traveller’s Ethnicity National Traveller Organisations call for Urgent Government Action to Address Traveller Equality
Today marks the fourth anniversary of State acknowledgement of Travellers as a minority ethnic group made in a formal address to the Dáilby then Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Long campaigned for, public recognition was a symbolic moment for Travellers and in Ireland’s history, but Traveller Organisations have seen only incremental and hard fought for changes in the time since. Today they call for the Government to restate its commitments with adequate funding across strategies aimed to combat inequities for Travellers in accommodation, education, health, employment, cultural identity and racism and discrimination.
The four-year National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy which was launched in June 2017 with 149 related actions, acts as a benchmark in time since State recognition and government reporting shows that only 12 of the actions are complete, 10 have yet to start and the rest are ongoing.
Criticism of the Strategy created within the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies and due for renewal this year, are that actions underpinning it are dispersed across government departments, are without a central fund to deliver on them, and where no staff have been assigned within departments to oversee their delivery in some areas. An allocation of €5 million in 2021 for NTRIS is earmarked but falls far short of the investment needed across the actions identified.
In 2020 National Traveller Organisations welcomed the commitments made in the Programme for Government but raised specific concerns in relation to the pace of current strategies given the long-term gaps in outcomes for Travellers across all social indicators and where little has changed for many since 2017. Concerns raised include:
In Education: Traveller education ambition is strong but urgent action is required to make its realisation possible. Consequences of cuts to Traveller education supports in 2008 have taken more than a decade to erase, and in 2016(1) only 20% of Travellers versus 92% non-Travellers completed senior cycle at second level and little evidence of improvements in completion rates since then, with new problems emerging.
Mitigating long term educational disadvantage caused by Covid requires special measures as well as urgent development and implementation of the commitment in the Programme for Government for a National Traveller Education Strategy. Pledges around Further and Higher education need continuation and reinforcement and adults whether full or part-time learners, need support. Home schooling is severely challenged in unstable and unsure living conditions, and often little access to WiFi and digital supports. Ensuring targets for Travellers to equally access and participatie in education are meaningful only if they are accompanied by employment initiatives which lead to equal outcomes.
In Accommodation: 10,809 Traveller families are resident throughout the 31 local authority areas of which 1,462 families or over 6,000 parents, children and grandparents are living in inadequate, unsafe and overcrowded shared housing or on unauthorised sites.Concerns continued to be raisedfor Travellers during covid 19 in overcrowded accommodation.
The current five-year Traveller Accommodation Programmes show a need nationally of 2,871 families, however only 22 authorities plan to deliver to these families by the end of their programmeandno indication of budgetary proposals for new builds and often no site identification, as determined by the Traveller AccommodationAct 1998 is planned across the Programmes.
Underspending nationally by local authorities from 2016 -2020 show (1) only €38.5 of €54 million was drawn down to deliver Traveller accommodation. and investment by Government has declined from an available allocation in the yrs. 2000-2004 of € 120 million compared to the 2014-2018 one of € 33 million. (2)
Health: Traveller health persists at levels found amongst the general population in the 1940s – including lower life expectancy, higher morbidity and mortality and suicide rates are six times the national rate. Despite this, Traveller health has not received any new core development monies since 2008. There is a clear and urgent need to publish and implement the long awaited National Traveller Health Action Plan and ensure Traveller health is prioritised within the Department of Health and a whole of department approach adopted.
Employment: In 2016 80% of Travellers eligible for work were unemployed (Census 2016). Education is a key barrier, worsened by accommodation and discrimination and where a central Traveller specific strategy addressing further education and training, and targeted employment is urgently required. Obstacles have been encountered in the public employment system where the focus is on the short term unemployed, during the covid crisis, and Travellers have not been prioritised.
Cultural Identity and Racism and Discrimination: In January 2020 the Seanad Public Consultation Committee launched its final report in recognition of Traveller’s ethnicity status with 34 recommendations related to improving Traveller’s access to and participation in politics, decision making, dialogue, social inclusion, education, discrimination and accountability.
A commitment to a multifaceted plan across all the sectors named, with specific targets and robust monitoring could improve Traveller’s visibility and representation in national and local settings, in public interest matters, in education, private and public employment, in civil society and public services and in the national narrative of culture, heritage and history. Up to now, there has been no investment, community engagement or dialogue by the State.
Discrimination: The level of widespread discrimination against Travellers in all parts of Irish society indicates a need for a targeted and specific response and the renewal of a National Strategy against Racism and a strengthened legislation, both of which are being considered currently by the Government, are welcome.
National Traveller Organisations call for
Implementation of Traveller Policy
1. To strengthen the existing implementation and monitoring of the National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy by adopting clear targets, indicators, outcomes, timeframes and budget lines for the Strategy. A unit with dedicated staff and resources should be established to coordinate the implementation of NTRIS in full consultation with Traveller organisations.
2. Roll out of Ethnic Equality Monitoring, including recording ethnicity in all routine administrative data sets. This will facilitate all public bodies in meeting their statutory requirements to to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and ensure human rights are respected as per Section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014)
Ensure Traveller Accommodation Delivery
- Implement all recommendations of the Report of the Expert Review Group on Traveller Accommodation with a time lined implementation plan, targets, corresponding accountability measures and budget.
- Ensure structural obstacles are addressed under the current review to renew the National Development Plan in delivering accommodation to Travellers and expedite a national Traveller accommodation audit, in consultation with the community, which will provide a coherent and transparent analysis of the scope of need.
Implement a comprehensive National Traveller Education Strategy and publish the interim findings of the government commissioned Baseline Report examining the experiences of parents and students from the Traveller and Roma community, teachers, principals, education welfare officers, home school community liaisons (HSCL), across four pilot sites.
- For the State to engage the community on a safeguarding strategy of Traveller culture and heritage, enhancing Traveller participation in cultural, social and economic life with clear and ring-fenced resources and a time-lined action plan.
- Make mandatory inclusion of Travellers within national and mainstream culture and heritage initiatives and social and cultural infrastructure.
Visibility and positive promotion
- Resource a national public education campaign to support the promotion of Traveller visibility, pride and identity.
- Name Travellers for specific protection in proposed Hate Crime legislation and inclusion in and proposed National Anti-Racism Strategy
For further information and or to arrange an interview please contact Jacinta Brack, the Irish Traveller Movement at firstname.lastname@example.org. Available spokespeople
Rose Marie Maughan – Irish Traveller Movement
Martin Collins – Pavee Point
Maria Joyce – National Traveller Women’s Forum
(2) Traveller Accommodation Expert Review, July 2019