Tuesday 23 May 2017

Hundreds of Irish Travellers left outside Leinster House as Taoiseach formally recognises ethnic status

Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivers his speech recognising the ethnic status of Irish Travellers.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivers his speech recognising the ethnic status of Irish Travellers.

Jason Kennedy and Gavin White

Hundreds of Travellers have been left out of Leinster House for the historic recognition of their ethnic identity by Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Just before Enda Kenny took to the Dáil chamber this evening to deliver his speech recognising the ethinic status of Irish Travellers, a number of TDs asked for a break to allow more Travellers in to witness the moment.

TDs Brid Smith, Ruth Coppinger and Gerry Adams asked for the speech to be suspended to allow more of the large crowd inside.

However, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said it was not a matter of space, but rather not having enough staff to manage the crowds.

Mr Kenny began his speech by referencing a 17-year-old named Robbie, before speaking about meeting representation from the travelling community.

The Taoiseach Enda Kenny heralded a “historic day for our Travellers and a proud day for Ireland”.

“There should be no surprise that a person can identify as Irish and as Traveller. This is a deep and personal issue for many Travellers.

“We all want the same for our children: to grow up and thrive in a society where everyone is free to be who they truly are. No one should have to hide their religion, their sexual orientation, their race or culture to be respected or even accepted in society.

“And across society, as we discussed, there are also darker elements that challenge the law of the land that must be tackled. The Traveller community is not immune to this.

“I hope that today will create a new platform for positive engagement by the Traveller community and Government together in seeking sustainable solutions which are based on respect and on an honest dialogue.

“That recent engagement and these Statements from all leaders in the House will further help generate mutual recognition and respect between the Traveller and settled communities,” the Taoiseach said.

The Government’s recognition of the Traveller ethnicity has been heralded as a “grievous wrong that has been righted” by the head of the Children’s Rights Alliance.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance said: “Today is an extraordinary day for Ireland and momentous for the thousands of Traveller children who have suffered for too long from exclusion and discrimination.

Ms Ward said “Traveller children are more than three and a half times more likely to die in infancy than non-Travellers while they leave school an average of five years earlier than non-Travellers.

“Recognising Traveller ethnicity will not fix these problems overnight but it will help Ireland get to grips with the discrimination and disadvantage that many Traveller children face in their lives.

“It sends a clear message of respect for the rights of the Traveller community,” she said.

“We applaud the many Traveller groups and individuals who have been steadfast in their advocacy for years to achieve this change.

“In particular, we would like to acknowledge our member organisations, including Pavee Point, the Irish Traveller Movement and the Traveller Visibility Group for their incredible hard work and firm belief that this day would come.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said “Recognition of Traveller ethnicity will be the catalyst for a rethink of how we focus resources on policies affecting Travellers.

“For example, in accessing education, in accessing culturally-appropriate and safe accommodation and in accessing healthcare, amongst other priority areas.

“The State recognition of the ethnicity of our indigenous Traveller community puts Ireland back in step with Northern Ireland, the UK and other EU partners.

As well as responding to calls from regional and international monitoring bodies for human rights and equality including the Council of Europe and the United Nations.

“With the unequivocal recognition of a distinct culture and identity, we can better anticipate and respond to the needs of the Traveller community living in Ireland.

Brigid Kelly Chair of the National Traveller Women’s Forum  said “we have been working towards this for a long time now and we are confident that it will have a positive impact for the community and will also ensure that Travellers will now be automatically included in all State anti-racism/intercultural legislation and initiatives.”

The group said it is an opportunity going forward to move away from the ideology of inferiority and build social solidarity between the Traveller and settled communities and ensure it is based on a strong foundation of mutual recognition and respect.

Speaking on Morning Ireland earlier today, former director of the Irish Traveller Movement Brigid Quilligan said the traveller community was "overjoyed" at the news.

"We want every Traveller in Ireland to be proud of who they are and to say that we're not a failed set of people. We have our own unique identity and we shouldn't take on all of the negative aspects of what people think about us," Ms Quilligan said on RTE Radio One.

"We should be able to be proud and for that to happen our State needed to acknowledge our identity and our ethnicity and they're doing that today."

Former Minister of State for Communities, Culture and Equality Aodhán O'Riordáin said the State's recognition was an important day for members of the travelling community.

"It's going to be a very emotional day today in Leinster House. We've spent so long working on this," the Labour Senator said in a video posted on Twitter.

"Maybe today is a yes equality moment for our traveller brothers and sisters," he said, referencing 2015's marriage equality referendum.

Online Editors

Promoted articles

Also in this section