Thursday, 1 June 2017
Report on Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity: Motion
I thank all Deputies who have attended and participated in this special debate on the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality entitled Report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity published in January 2017. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, for attending and for his contribution. I thank all the Traveller organisations and their representatives for their engagement with us over the series of hearings we held in October and November last year. I extend a special word of thanks to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for its participation and to both Anastasia Crickley and Robbie McVeigh for their respective contributions. I wish to also recognise the presence in the Visitors' Gallery of a number of interested parties, including the Irish Traveller Movement, Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, Minceirs Whiden, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and others from various Traveller representative groups. They are all most welcome in this House.
While I accept and note the acceptance of the Traveller organisations that the formal recognition of Traveller ethnicity does not confer any new rights on the Traveller community, I am very much of the view that it is the State’s responsibility to ensure that all discriminatory practices and any identifiable negative dispositions towards Traveller people are rooted out of our public services. Government, through the Office of An Taoiseach, should advise all Departments, all State agencies and local government across the board of the importance of the recognition of the needs and wishes of Traveller people. There is also a need to ethnically-proof all new legislation and regulations. I do not want to hear again the reply I received on the last occasion I asked a director of services to advise me of the range of Traveller accommodation options provided by that local authority. The reply was "we put them in houses" - as stark and blunt as that. Our delivery systems, be it through local authorities, Departments or the agencies of State, can and must do better than that.
Another area that needs to be addressed is the disposition and-or lack of awareness of Traveller culture, needs and aspirations among the Judiciary. Some judges demonstrate an appreciation of the Traveller community and its unique way of life while some show scant regard and little empathy with defendants and complainants from the Traveller community coming before them. Will the Minister for Justice and Equality take appropriate steps to urge and indeed insist on all members of the Judiciary having at the very least a broad knowledge of all equality legislation?
The media is another sector that has a serious job of work to do. The labelling of crimes carried out and-or those responsible as "Traveller related" or "of the Traveller community" smears all members of that community. This is wrong. The vast majority of the Traveller community are good, decent and law-abiding citizens who have no truck with criminality. This labelling hurts and further contributes to the personal sense of being of less worth that all too sadly is strongly in evidence within the Traveller community. This might require a re-visiting of the Broadcasting Act where there is no specific reference to Travellers.
Whatever the new national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy may present - because we still do not know - there is and will be a need for the State to up its game in dialogue with Traveller representatives and with the wider Traveller community. I want to see, we want to see, a much more intense engagement that covers all key areas that impact on the daily life condition of Traveller people. This must include address of the key areas of accommodation, education, employment, health, media and political representation. Look at the representation in these Houses and how few, if any, of Traveller stock are represented among our number. It must also include the areas of culture and heritage. It has to be meaningful and the only litmus test of that is in the implementation of agreed measures that will impact positively on the lives of all who are proud to proclaim their Traveller ethnicity. I want all Travellers to have that pride, to be proud to be Travellers and proud to be a part of the Irish nation that properly respects them and affirms their dignity as co-equal citizens of our country.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, the Minister of State and Members for their participation here this evening. I wish the Traveller representatives and friends in the Visitors Gallery yet another happy evening following this debate.