What does Ethnic Recognition mean for Irish Travellers?

Ethnicity means belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition, ethnicity is not the same as nationality or place of birth. Your ethnicity or cultural background means the group you descended from.

An ethnic group is made up by people who share certain characteristics such as culture, language, religion and traditions. Traveller ethnicity is an acknowledgement that Travellers experience racism and discrimination.

Who are the Irish Traveller community?

Research carried out in 2010 research found there were 36,224 Travellers in the Republic and 3,905 in Northern Ireland.

  • Some 2,700 Travellers did not have access to running water, according to the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study carried out in the same year and the Traveller suicide rate is six times the national average for men and women. A report by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), the country's leading economic think tank - which warns about the poor education, health and jobs prospects suffered by the community.
  • Only 8% of working-age Travellers had stayed at school up to Leaving Certificate level compared with almost three quarters of the rest of the population.
  • Study also found that 82% of Travellers aged 25-64 are unemployed compared to 17% of the same age-group in the rest of the population.
  • Almost one in three (29%) Travellers reported being in fair, bad or very bad health compared to just 8% of non-Travellers in the 35 to 54 age group

What challenges do Irish Travellers face?

A report published last month by ESRI highlighted the “extreme disadvantage” suffered by Travellers across a range of indicators, including health, housing, education, employment and mortality.Recognition of Traveller ethnicity “could be of considerable benefit in ensuring respect for the cultural identity of Travellers in the context of targeted services,” it said. Almost 70 per cent of travellers live in caravans or overcrowded housing, just 1 per cent has a college degree, 82 per cent are unemployed and their health worsens more dramatically than non-Travellers as they age.

  • Culture not recognised or valued
  • High levels of racism and discrimination
  • Not able to travel anymore
  • Traveller identity not recognised in schools
  • Travellers die younger people

Why has the Government decided to recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority?

Recognition has been called for repeatedly by a range of international human rights organisations including the European Commission, which in July last year threatened legal proceedings against Ireland for its treatment of Travellers. National organisations that have campaigned and fought for this recognition for years have been putting pressure on Government included the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Ombudsman for Children, and several United Nations committees most recently by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, earlier this month.

Do any other groups have a similar ethnic recognition by the State?

The Travelling Community will be the sole group to have their ethnicity recognised domestically.

How will this recognition affect the Travelling community?

The move will be a symbolic step forward for the 30,000-strong Traveller community. Campaigners believe it will be hugely important to improving self-esteem and increasing confidence within the community to address its many challenges. The announcement will be welcomed by campaigners who have sought recognition for over 25 years.The ICCL has said the recognition of Traveller ethnicity will mark a turning point in how Travellers are treated in Irish society and a final “moving away from Government policies over the past 50 years which viewed Travellers as the object of assimilationist policies”.

  • Traveller Culture would be recognised Traveller’s living conditions could improve, therefore Travellers’ health could improve.
  • Traveller culture could be included in design/ delivery of health services.
  • Travellers could live longer.
  • It may be that the government will have to keep places for Travellers in their Government.
  • It will provide the same level of protection under international laws as all other ethnic groups around the world.
  • Traveller Culture may be recognised in schools.

What happens next?

The next step will be the publication of the National Strategy on Travellers and Roma People. It will set out a range of actions across certain areas, including education, employment and accommodation. Ethnicity is a key part of that strategy.

Published: 09 March 2017