Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community

Traveller Employment: Discussion (Resumed)

Ms Doreen Carpenter:

I thank the committee for its invitation to be here today. I work in the Clondalkin Travellers Development Group, CTDG, which was established to address the needs of Travellers in the Clondalkin area. Over time, it has expanded to other areas and now works with Travellers in Lucan, Newcastle and Palmerstown. Almost 8% of all Travellers in Ireland live within the south Dublin area.

CTDG is a partnership between Travellers and the wider community, working to promote the rights of Travellers as a nomadic ethnic group within Irish society, and we seek to address issues through a collective mechanism of work. Historically, both national and local policies have challenged the traditional employment routes and access points for Travellers, either directly through the repression of nomadism, for example, or indirectly through legislation such as the Casual Trading Act, which forced many Travellers, particularly women, out of the labour market due to a lack of appropriate supports.

Subsequent State policies and strategies on the stimulation and development of the economy have either been weak or entirely lacking in vision for the inclusion of Travellers in the journey towards a more prosperous Ireland for all children. The barriers to employment for Travellers are a multitude because of the lack of a robust education strategy, the ongoing accommodation crisis, issues regarding the gaps of understanding by institutes and employers of Travellers and the very real fear of the loss of supports such as medical cards.

It has been our experience that many of the Travellers who are in employment outside of Traveller organisations and networks actively conceal their identity to improve their employment possibilities, a strategy that has had many long-term negative consequences for those forced into such practices. Mental health issues and stressors have also continued to challenge the employment possibilities for Travellers. The issues of accommodation, education and health are all linked to employment and underline and undermine progressive strategies and actions aimed at increasing the numbers of Travellers in employment. These factors need must be taken into consideration - there are multiple levels of discrimination and challenge that Travellers experience daily. In the past there were some particularly successful employment programmes such as South Dublin County Council's employment initiative which created positions in the outdoor duties section of various departments and clerical administration roles. Many of those who took part in the pilot programme progressed to full-time and part-time roles within the council. This was of dual benefit, with the community recognising the importance of council activities and the council creating specific inclusion and access points for Travellers who could be seen not just as clients but also as colleagues.

Currently we run the crossbar bike enterprise training and employment programme, an initiative supported by the Department of Justice and Equality that has created opportunities for Travellers to engage and receive training and certification in City and Guilds bike mechanics and electric bike maintenance. The programme has delivered bike safety training and road safety training in partnership with An Garda Síochána at local schools. It has also created spaces at health fairs; developed local relationships particularly with prison services; engaged young people by providing mentoring and work experience; and has established itself as a repair unit for bicycles as well as a retail unit selling both bikes and bike parts. The programme has been particularly successful as it provides a wide range of wraparound services such as accommodation support, drug and alcohol support and access to a Traveller-specific counsellor. This work is further supported by a steering group that is led in partnership with the community, board of management, local enterprise office and the South Dublin county partnership. Further development of this programme, including seeding it in different regions, would be a positive step towards increasing the employment and engagement of Travellers in different areas. A past participant has now taken over the management of the programme which has sent a strong signal to the Traveller community that programmes such as this can and do work. While the State can encourage private industry and companies to create space for Travellers among their teams and employees, it can also lead by example by creating different positions at appropriate levels in Government Departments and agencies under their remit. This is something that is immediately doable and would lead to a dramatic shift in community relations and understanding and reduce the percentage of Travellers who remain outside of the employment market.

Clondalkin Travellers Development Group supports the specific provisions within the community employment scheme structures that waive the need for 12 months of unemployment in order to access the scheme. In the past this waiver has supported our work and engagement with young Travellers in the context of higher level education, employment exposure and training.

Internship programmes could be supported to particularly target bringing Travellers into their structures. Employer exchange programmes could be established, the grandparenting of established skill sets could be considered for different training courses, and cultural awareness training for employers could be made more accessible for employees in order to challenge the pervasive misunderstanding and racism towards Travellers. It is not about ability; it is about ethnicity.

I thank the committee for inviting us here today. I hope our recommendations are taken onboard.