I want to offer my deepest condolences to those that have lost family to COVID-19 and we honour their lives, as we journey ahead with you.
We are making every effort to support all our members and the community during these very difficult and challenging times. We are in unprecedented water and I sincerely hope we can talk about this in the future, given the level of uncertainty and the possibility of austerity as we brace ourselves for the aftermath of COVID-19. We are still having to address the many other issues within the community and which COVID-19 has further compounded.
I know we are all stretched and have limited resources. I particularly want to take the opportunity to praise all the local and national Traveller organisations and individuals for the efforts undertaken during this crisis.
There is even more reason today to acknowledge these efforts. Given how those with such limited resources have been working so hard to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and thereby, saving lives. I feel proud to be part of this movement, which has been a call of arms to protect our most vulnerable and save lives. Please stay safe over the bank holiday weekend.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) has been working hard to ensure Travellers are supported in every way to reduce the spread and impact of the Coronavirus and making every effort to support our members in their work towards same.
We are collectively working to protect the most vulnerable in our community including our elderly and those with underlying health issues and we support the Government measures to prevent the spread by social distancing, supporting the over 70’s and people with poor health including children and younger adults, who are cocooning.
Travellers like all communities are living and socialising in a new way just among our immediate family group, so we can go back to some level of normal life as quickly as we can. We have had to change the way we honour lost loved ones, with no more than 10 people at a funeral, to help protect the rest of the community.
Because many in our community suffer from bad health, Travellers are considered an “at risk” group, so we can take up the offer of fast testing. The test is free and results available in 48 hours. By taking a test, we are protecting our families by not spreading the virus to them and if we have Coronavirus we can safely self-isolate and if very sick, we can access medical care quickly.
The Irish Traveller Movement COVID-19 Response
The Irish Traveller Movement and other national organisations continue to work with the Minister for Housing Damien English and his department who have provided funding to local authorities to ensure the prevention of COVID-19 infection for Travellers across Traveller specific accommodation.
A circular to all Local Authorities on March 18th on measures designed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and lessen the risk of infection, particularly for those living on sites with limited facilities outlined the extra measures needed, including:
Additional mobile accommodation / space where there is overcrowding;
Extra refuse collection;
Access and egress on sites; and
Additional units (either mobiles on site or houses elsewhere that will allow for self-isolation/ quarantine).
A follow up letter was issued by the DHPLG clarifying points from this circular on the 27th of April which can be read here.
All ITM’s COVID-19 related work has been facilitated through deploying additional staff to front line matters on accommodation and who are working remotely via teleconference, online web applications and mobile devices.
Addressing the emergency response, we have been:
1. Working with the Minister for Housing, Assistant Secretary-General for Housing and officials on reporting of measures allocated nationally in Traveller accommodation. We are working collectively with all local and national Traveller Organisations
2. We liaise daily, collecting data through our member groups reporting on those outstanding matters to the Department of Housing Planning and Local Government. The ITM membership is the portal into the community with local knowledge, capacity and community development strengths and they locally advocate on the alleviation measures in each area and are a critical link to monitoring nationally. ITM’s regular Accommodation Working Group meetings bring forward emerging matters to the national policy space feeding into the Covid Emergency National Traveller Group space of which ITM is a member and back to the Department.
3. We liaise with Local authorities regarding measures to be implemented for Travellers and offer advice and guidance. Providing intervention with LAs, HSE and local and national political representatives where outstanding local accommodation issues have been exacerbated by COVID-19 or require now immediate intervention, including on:
Movement onto land by families from other areas
Working with LA’s where matters are previously unmovable and where alleviation needs to be accelerated.
4. We have been monitoring emergency needs matters arising requiring intervention and change of focus, electricity, self-isolation, mobile home alternatives, hubs and where responses have not been catered for in original measures outlined and in the community regarding supports for social distancing, funerals, movement to areas, undertaking testing etc.
5. Political engagement and policy advocacy: We worked for a ban on evictions during the COVID-19 crisis by lobbying for inclusion in the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (COVID-19) Act 2020, where no Traveller will be evicted from where they are currently resident during the outbreak, which is in place.
We have sought intervention across local based accommodation matters with elected representatives and have sought support for the welfare of Traveller children and concerns for those most vulnerable to infection with the Ombudsman.
6. Communication: We have centralised important COVID-19 health-related information across our online networks and sharing sites and developed community-specific public education social media content via online infographics and posts to our wide audience of Facebook users, as emerging issues arise which require essential community specific communications.
Education Working Group
The Irish Traveller Movement raised concerns Department of Education and Skills on behalf of our members for Traveller pupils. There are many students who don’t have access to appropriate remote learning devices to continue with their studies. The are concerns that students without additional support may become early school-leavers and therefore be left behind, unable to access third level education and/or affecting their future employment chances. The letter can be read here.
We are activated with our Youth and Yellow Flag Programmes and Education working groups to enable Covid specific engagement across the specific cohorts of these groups and in response to matters arising from them and developing the relevant responses
Traveller Accommodation National Policy Work
We anticipate our work will be ongoing and multi-faceted given the complexity of issues related to Traveller accommodation and the inadequate supply nationally and the continuance of the Coronavirus. In the interim, our national accommodation policy work which covers several functions including, national policy, political advocacy and engagement and strategic communications, will continue as per the conditions determined by social distancing and provision of Government guidance.
The National Traveller Independent Expert Report
Bernard Joyce is the national Traveller representative on the new Board feeding into and back to national representatives and our members.
With no government in place during the COVID-19 crisis, no meeting of the board has taken place to persue the recommendations. The focus internally of the Review in the DHPLG is on recommendations to advance Traveller Accommodation supply, Traveller homelessness research and a national Traveller audit of needs.
Social Work Review
The review, called for by the NTACC, will be carried out from May to October of this year. Travellers who have availed of services through the local authorities, and Traveller organisations will be invited to give their input.
All the national organisations were appalled by the Channel 4 documentary, DISPATCHES: The Truth About Traveller Crime and will be making a formal complaint. The UK Traveller Movement have reported that over 8,000 complaints were made. We understand that legal advice is being sought by the UK Traveller Movement and you can make a complaint to Ofcom here.
ITM are also continuing our work under Erasmus+ and are currently developing an online youth forum with young Travellers, talking about core issues impacting on young people during COVID-19 health crisis.
Michael Collins is working with other local and national organisations. One of the main issues young Travellers have brought up is COVID-19 and how they are coping with cocooning and the shutdown.
There will be a mental health worker taking part in discussions, along with a primary health care worker, giving practical and helpful advice around what the young people should be doing when it comes to COVID-19.
Using Zoom as the platform, ITM will be setting up the online space very soon. This will be a fantastic way for young Travellers to safely engage and connect with each other and to continue the energetic and vital discussions of the Youth Forum. If you would like to get involved with the Youth Forum, please contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are delighted to announce that Shreya Chaturvedi, our former Development Worker has now moved into the Coordinator role; and we have recruited a new Development Worker who is all set to join us once COVID-19 school restrictions are lifted.
We are currently working with 14 schools all over the country that are still undertaking the Yellow Flag Programme. As part of our new workplan, we will be working with 12 new schools over the next two years while also encouraging schools that got the flag more than 3 years ago to work towards a renewal of their flag.
The Yellow Flag team along with its key stakeholders engaged in a Strategic Planning Process for 6 months which was conducted by Values Lab. We now have a Strategic Plan to be implemented over the next 5-7 years. Keep an eye out for the launch once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased!
We understand that this is a very difficult time for many minority ethnic students and families around the country, and Yellow Flag is taking social media action to create awareness of this inequality and calling out to strengthen the community spirit that Yellow Flag schools work so hard to harness. For more information, please have a look at our website.
We wish all the best to Yellow Flag schools across the country and hope we come out of this crisis together and stronger!