Today the Irish Traveller Movement welcomed a report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity by the Irish State, which made three recommendations including that either the Taoiseach or Minister for Justice and Equality make a statement to Dáil Éireann confirming State recognition, that the Government would inform relevant international bodies of that decision and that a time-limited dialogue would be undertaken with Traveller representative groups about possible new, or amendments to existing legislation, now required
The report which originated with a submission made by the Irish Traveller Movement in February 2013 restated an outstanding and long-time canvassed for desire by Travellers over 20 years for state recognition of their ethnic status. With renewed political effort sought at the Oireachtas Justice Committee, the vision for that recognition came closer to a reality today.
The group are hopeful that the report will be prioritised by the Minster for Justice especially so in anticipation of Ireland’s appearance before the Human Rights Committee ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) in Geneva in July 2014 examining progress on the matter of ethnicity recognition.
In in their last Concluding Observations (July 2008) it was recommended The State party should take steps to recognize Travellers as an ethnic minority group. Irish Traveller Movement Director Brigid Quilligan said “Following the recommendations of this report and in light of strong support from domestic and other international human rights bodies and conventions, we are hopeful that the Minster will now formally recognise Travellers as an ethnic group in his ICCPR report.
She continued “Today’s report consolidates more firmly the importance of acknowledging Travellers outstanding human, legal and cultural rights both the critical and the symbolic. Recognition by the State of our unique ethnicity is at the heart of how we might become more equal,
The Committee report also concluded that there was overwhelming evidence in favour of Traveller ethnicity, provided at oral hearings and on visiting Traveller centres and that that the rationale for ethnicity denial by the State were found to be unsustainable.
The Joint Committee also accepted that Travellers were best placed to know what is in their best interests and thus recognised the important human legal rights entitlement to “self-identify” as part of an ethnic group.
Brigid Quilligan continued: “We are not speaking about major changes; we are speaking about people who have been on the island of Ireland for as long as anybody can record and recognition for the valuable contribution we have made to Irish society. We are talking about having our own history recorded, rather than a history that has been written for us, imposed upon us and dictated to us. We are talking about setting the record straight and supporting our people to stand tall and feel they are a valuable part of Irish society.”
Amongst TDs notable for their support on the issue are TD Padraig McLochlainn, Sinn Fein Justice Spokesperson and Rapporteur for the matter on the Justice Committee, Labour TD, Aodhan O’Riordain and Ivana Bacik who spoke on a motion before the Labour Party Conference in November 2013 and which gained unanimous support.
Travellers already satisfy the standard legal and sociological criteria for recognition as an ethnic group and are recognised by the British, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh authorities as separate from non-Traveller Irish people.