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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:
- Extra toilets;
- Running water;
- 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).
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 weekly 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 or require now immediate intervention, including on:
- Threatened evictions
- 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 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.
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.
7. We have advocated for access to educational supports for Traveller pupils during Covid-19 and to seek a ring-fenced budget, technology and other supports for Traveller students.
8. We have advocated for the inclusion of Travellers, in partnership with NGO / Civil Society partners, in addressing facilities for other vulnerable groups.
9. We continue to liaise with the Department of Justice and Equality and Minister of State with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, to address the NTRIS strategy in the context of Covid 19 changes and in related matters .
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.
We are activated with our Youth Work, Yellow Flag Programme 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.