Good news for Traveller Ethnicity Recognition

Speaking at the ITM Yellow Flag awards ceremony on Tuesday the Minister of State for Equality, Aodhán Ó Riordáin, said that recognition of Traveller ethnicity will be “a reality” in six months has said. This announcement is hugely important and gives all ITM members a boost that our strategy will be achieved in the very near future.

As you all will know, the Irish Traveller Movement formed in 1990 with one of its primary objectives in our constitution was to “Promote the recognition of Travellers as a nomadic ethnic group having its own distinctive culture and lifestyle“. As many of you involved will know, getting Traveller identity recognised has been a long, arduous struggle.

It is worth reflecting on how we collectively have brought about this change where we now have a commitment that Traveller ethnicity will be recognised by the State within 6 months. Many Traveller organisations (locally and nationally) and activists have given up large parts of their lives actively campaignig locally, nationally and internationlly in order that Traveller ethnicity would be recognised

ITM Ethnicity Campaign

In 2008 in Donegal at the ITM AGM, Blanchardstown Travellers Development Group proposed a motion that ITM adopt a petition and campaign with the specific aim of ethnicity recognition. This petition was formally launched on the 10th December 2008 (International Human Rights Day) and the first signatures of the petition were Michael Collins (actor & Traveller activist), Niall Crowley (one of his last acts as head of the Equality Authority) and Philip Watt, Director of the NCCRI.

As a membership-based organisation we were aware that in order to go forward collectively we needed to engage the community on a discussion on identity and the benefits of ethnicity recognition. Through our regional membership workers and regional networks it was clear that there was a need for a debate including teasing out what the term “ethnicity” was. From that a DVD was developed in order that our members could engage all members of the community on the ethnicity campaign. This video was also loaded onto Youtube and remains our most accessed video clip.

As a Movement, a strategic decision was made to ensure that we made every effort to get the message out to the community and engage Travellers actively in a debate about ethnicity. We were well aware that previous responses from politicians at an international level made reference to the fact that there was a considerable difference of opinion among Travellers about the benefits of ethnicity recognition, which was used as a brake on recognition. All this hard work can clearly be seen, especially by the almost unanimous voice of Travellers at the conference on Traveller ethnicity in September 2012 (held in Dublin Castle).
In 2010, the we re-focussed our ethnicity campaign to incorporate a new phase of action, using the strategic approach of political lobbying and enhanced communication.  This, we hoped would create a momentum and bring recognition to fruition.  Four years on, we are heartened by the news that ethnicity recognition is to be acknowledged within 6 months, according to Minster of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Aodhain O’Riordhain, a long-time supporter and ally on the matter.

As a national membership organisation, you as members led the campaign locally by ensuring that our collective message in relation to ethnicity was heard by politicians over and over the length and breadth of the country and this was vital to take us where we are now. Most importantly, once we developed this strategy we have persistently applied pressure to ensure Traveller ethnicity would be more positively embraced by the current Government.

As we have updated you over these last 4 years, the strategy has included a wide range of interventions including

  • Oireachtas and other submissions,
  • Oireachtas oral hearing / briefings of parties, TDs and Senators
  • Specific political dialogue, and securing support of key political influentials
  • Representation at international human rights forums and hearings.
  • Lobbying of other international bodies and political structures.
  • Presentations to party conferences and motions before their members, seeking their support
  • Specific media liaison

There have been notable advances which created specific results these included:

  • A submission to the Oireachtas Justice Committee and a subsequent hearing on Ethnicity April 2013.  A subsequent visit by a delegation of the Committee to two Traveller organisations which was facilitated by ITM in Jan 2013
  • Consistent dialogue on the matter with politicians, most notably Aodhain O’Rodhain and Padraig McLochlainn. The appointment of Minister O’Riordhain gave increased hope that our campaign would be more positively supported.
  • The report and recommendations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice.
  • The recommendation of the Seanad Consultation Committee.
  • The recommendation of the Northern Ireland Assembly
  • Submissions, representations and subsequent recommendations at UPR, ICESCR, UN Human Rights Council
  • Representations to the UN Human Rights Council, the EU Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe, the Ambassador to Ireland’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations
  • Presentation to Human Rights Defenders Rapporteur to the UNHRC
  • Presentation EU Fundamental Rights Agency to bring more significance to the issue during Ireland’s EU Presidency.
  • Meeting with the office of the then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eammon Gilmore, and the Human Rights unit within Foreign Affairs
  • The recognition and support of political parties, Green Party (2010), Labour party, Dublin and Cork City Council
  • Briefing on the matter to all newly elected Councillors in Ireland (Sept 2014)

We also sought support from Irish social and civil society NGOs who appealed to the Minister for Justice on the issue and have continued ongoing discussions  with Ministers of Justice and senior civil servants.

While we have not achieved the State recognition of Traveller ethnicity yet, we as a Movement can certainly be proud of the work we have put in to have gotten the campaign so far. We know that ethnicity recognition is not a panacea and will not immediately cease the oppression of Travellers but what it will do is finally put into place that Traveller identity is recognised by the State. Once that recognition is in place we will all work collectively towards ensuring commitments are in place to protect and resource that identity and end anti-Traveller racism.


*This has been taken from Irish Traveller Movement Weekly News Update Friday 21st November 2014


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