Thursday, 1 June 2017
Report on Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity: Motion
As the Minister of State has just said, to define Travellers as an ethnic group does not entitle them to any additional rights and protections. While the recent decision to recognise Traveller ethnicity is a symbolic step and a well-deserved victory for the Traveller community who have fought so long and hard for it, it will be meaningless if the Government fails to follow through with targeted policy improvements. The fact remains that Travellers experience structural inequality and discrimination in all aspects and stages of life.
After visiting Ireland in November 2016, the Council of Europe's Commission for Human Rights, Nils MuiŽnieks, stated that he was deeply concerned at the persisting social exclusion and discrimination Travellers were confronted with in Ireland. Successive Governments have pursued policies of assimilation, often indirectly through, for example, disproportionate cuts to Traveller-related expenditure. From 2011, Traveller-specific education supports were slashed by 86%, which is a frightening statistic. The €36 million which was taken away from Travellers in 2011 through the termination of visiting teacher services and the specialised resource teachers for Travellers will cost young Travellers dearly in the long term. While the Minister's consultation document on the draft national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy contains several actions on education, including measures to enforce attendance, there is no commitment to bring back these vital educational supports which would help to keep many kids in school and provide them an improved equality of opportunity.
Deputy Ó Caoláin has gone through a lot of the statistics. Only 1% of Travellers aged 25 to 64 have a college degree. Only 8% have completed the leaving certificate compared to 73% of non-Travellers. According to the Economic and Social Research Institute's recent report, "A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland", Travellers have not benefited nearly as much as non-Travellers from improvements in levels of education since the 1960s. There are many barriers to education for Travellers. The 2016 census found that 73% of Travellers are aged 34 and under and they marry young. Some 22% of Travellers marry between the ages of 15 and 24 compared to 1.2% of the settled population. Another obstacle to education is the fact that 70% of Traveller children come from families in which the mother has no formal education.
Education is the key to improving the lives of Travellers in Ireland. Poor education attainment is a crucial factor in the disproportionately high unemployment rate among Travellers. Census 2011 found an unemployment rate of 82% among Travellers, compared with 17% in the settled population. Although the national unemployment rate has decreased since then, the rate among Travellers is not expected to have changed significantly.
With regard to Traveller accommodation supports, the situation is similarly grim. Between 2008 and 2013 the travel accommodation budget was cut by 90%. On 1 January this year, 91 Traveller families were on the social housing waiting list in Wexford. There was a recent issue whereby eight local authorities did not invest any money in housing for the Traveller community, despite being allocated hundreds of thousands of euro in funding to do so. Wexford County Council has a decent record in this area. What is plain is the allocated funding is simply not sufficient, in certain areas anyway, such as in Wexford. Then we have the situation in Cork, where the city council left more than €470,000 unspent over the past two years. One of the largest halting site in the country, Spring Lane in Cork, was originally built for ten families and now has 34 families and more than 150 people. Cork City Council has no existing plans to address overcrowding.
Census 2011 shows that 12% of Travellers live in a caravan or mobile home, and 84% of this accommodation is overcrowded. It is more common than standard accommodation to lack central heating, piped water and sewage facilities. According to the ESRI, 56% of Travellers in Ireland live in overcrowded accommodation. Travellers, as a recognised ethnic minority, should now have their right to culturally appropriate housing honoured. Emily Logan, chief commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC, has argued that local authorities should be penalised if they do not spend the total money allocated for Traveller housing in a given year. Failing to do so will lead to very little change.
The consultation paper on the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy does not seem to have any measures to address this problem. Perhaps I am wrong.