Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community

Traveller Employment: Discussion (Resumed)

Ms Joanna Corcoran:

Galway Traveller Movement made a submission to the committee and believes that addressing the enterprise and employment needs of the Traveller community, my community, should be a matter of priority for the Irish State. Members of my community experience higher levels of unemployment when compared with the settled population. According to the CSO, 2016, the Traveller unemployment rate is 80%. The main barriers currently experienced by Travellers as regards the labour market as well as enterprise activities include discrimination, direct or indirect - half of all Travellers feel that they experience direct discrimination, according to the all-Ireland Traveller health study; lack of appropriate enterprise guidance and support from mainstream enterprise support organisations, and lack of trust among Travellers with traditional business support providers; loss of benefits, or fear of loss of benefits particularly in relation to the medical card, given Travellers' poorer health status than that of the general population. This can mean that Travellers will be fearful of taking up employment or testing new enterprise ideas; lack of visible role models as many Travellers need to hide their identity to succeed in a hostile and anti-Traveller work environment; a national survey of Travellers in 2017 found that 52% of Travellers said they had experienced an obstacle when accessing employment, and 43% indicated they have encountered discrimination while accessing employment.

Discrimination against Travellers, racism, unemployment and social exclusion have a negative impact on all Travellers - women, men, young people and children. Travellers are not gaining employment from the mainstream State investment in enterprise programmes, foreign direct investment, training initiatives, and local development programmes. There is a national Traveller Roma and inclusion strategy, NTRIS, but there is no additional money or resources attached to the employment and enterprise actions in NTRIS. We fear that the strategy will end in 2021, and there will no improvement in the situation of Travellers in employment.

We need to create opportunities for Travellers to gain real jobs. We in the Galway Traveller Movement, GTM, alone have created 16 jobs for members of the Traveller community through our social enterprise activities. Since 2007, GTM has pursued an ambitious enterprise and social enterprise development strategy. We have formed two social enterprises: First Class Insulation which has provided home insulation services in the west of Ireland since 2010 and has delivered the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI's better energy warmer homes scheme to more than 1,500 homes; and Bounce Back Recycling which has recycled mattresses in the Connacht and Ulster waste region since 2017. We are one of only three mattress recyclers in the country.

Our social enterprise mission is to explore and expand new social enterprise opportunities in order to increase employment opportunities for Traveller men and women; develop a powerful model of economic self-determination to inspire the wider community; reclaim the community’s role in environmental and economic sustainability; and, finally, promote the visibility of our work in order to challenge racism and discrimination. A third social enterprise, Springback Upcycling, which will provide furniture refurbishment and up-cycling services, is at start-up stage.

Our most recent achievements in 2019 include the following. Bounce Back Recycling was nominated for a Green Award 2020 in the green NGO category, the winner of which will be announced in February 2020. A feature on Bounce Back Recycling was broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1’s "Today with Sean O’Rourke" on 21 November 2019. The model of Galway Traveller Movement’s social enterprise activities, including First Class Insulation and Bounce Back Recycling, was featured as a key contributor and the basis of a workshop at the first National Social Enterprise Conference, organised by the Department of Rural and Community Development on 21 November 2019. Bounce Back was one of 16 national awardees of the Social Innovation Foundation Ireland’s Social Enterprise Development Fund Award 2019. Bounce Back is working with the Climate-Kic Accelerator programme with Trinity College Dublin. First Class Insulation, FCI, has successfully tendered for appointment to the panel of SEAI contractors. FCI has delivered the better energy warmer homes scheme to more 1,500 homes in County Galway. We have also developed a model and toolkit for supporting Traveller women entrepreneurs.

We have made recommendations relating to enterprise, employment, social enterprise, and local enterprise strategies based on our experience and track record. We have made some recommendations that apply to all enterprise and employment bodies. It is essential that the needs of Travellers, and other groups, are assessed in preparation for all enterprise and employment programmes so that services will be appropriate to the needs and experiences of members of the Traveller community. This means that Travellers decision-making is part of the decision-making and planning processes, at local and national level, with State agencies involved in enterprise, employment and labour market support. Equality impact assessment should be mandatory in all policies and actions plans relating to employment and enterprise and Travellers should be involved in this process. All enterprise and employment agencies and bodies must collect data on the participation and access of Travellers in their programmes. To do this they need to introduce an ethnic identifier. Once they have the data, agencies should report and monitor the ongoing engagement of Travellers with their services and take action where there is a low take-up. Anti-racism and cultural awareness training should be mandatory for staff of State agencies and funded bodies. It should not be a one-off process. If the above actions were undertaken, they would support the legal obligations of agencies and bodies under the public sector equality and human rights duty.

Our specific recommendations relating to employment include the following. There should be a positive action programme in the public sector which targets Travellers in recruitment processes. This should be undertaken by the Public Appointments Service with the involvement and partnership of Traveller organisations to support its implementation. Given the significant funding provided by the State to support private enterprises, the State should require private employers in receipt of State supports to put in place strategies and actions to secure a diverse workforce. The State should also put in place resources to support this. The special initiative for Travellers, SIT, aimed to explore approaches to tackling unemployment and underemployment of Travellers and to support Travellers in the Traveller economy.

GTM delivered SIT programmes for two years. We were granted a further programme when it was moved from the then Department of Social Protection to the Department of Justice and Equality. However, with this changeover, the funding stream was lost and we were informed that no new calls would be made under the programme. GTM calls for SIT to be reinstated, and for all SIT programmes to be located within Traveller representative organisations.

Regarding Traveller-led social enterprise, we welcome the recent national social enterprise policy and recommend the following actions under its implementation. Key performance indicators and targets must be established under this programme, including targets and strategies for Traveller-led social enterprise. GTM could be funded as a selected organisation to support Traveller organisations on a national basis to explore social enterprise development. We are well placed to do this, and as a result of recent national radio and conference coverage, we are receiving requests for support from Traveller organisations and local development companies.

Given the role of communities in national climate action and renewable energy strategies and the significant role of social enterprises in the green economy, we need a green economy and climate action social enterprise strategy. Communities need greater access to capital infrastructure, such as for enterprise and social enterprise activities, and should be facilitated in acquiring these from State agencies which are disposing of assets. This is already the case in Scotland.

The use of social clauses and social considerations in the procurement process is provided for in the procurement directives, and a pilot to explore how this could work should be developed. GTM has experience of delivering social benefits through the procurement process as it is a community-based provider of the SEAI better energy warmer homes scheme, and it can use its expertise in working with communities to support their take-up of this scheme. We are well placed to participate in such a pilot.

Much support for enterprise development is managed and planned at local levels, through local authorities' local enterprise offices, and is informed by local economic and community plans, LECPs. For the next round of developing LECPs and local enterprise support, local planning processes must include the formal participation of the most disadvantaged communities, including Travellers. Local structures must give an explicit commitment to this when developing local plans. Unless Traveller organisations are involved, the plans that emerge cannot address the employment and enterprise needs of Travellers. The strategic policy committees for economic development and structures to develop LECPs must have Traveller participation.

Equality of outcome should be a key objective of the LECPs. Reports on the outcomes of the plans must include data on the take-up, outcomes and supports accessed by Travellers. Specific provisions to include the Traveller economy must be part of the LECPs, including making resources available for targeted initiatives to support Travellers. Enterprise supports at local level should be culturally specific and target the engagement of Traveller trainers and mentors. Collaboration should take place with Traveller organisations in designing, delivering and promoting targeted supports and programmes, including enterprise programmes and social enterprises.


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