Travellers 'must have ethnic status'

The Irish state must grant Travellers official status as a recognised ethnic minority group, a parliamentary committee in Dublin has said.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality made the call in a new report, published on Thursday.

It calls on ministers to confirm that the state "recognises the ethnicity of the travelling community".

Travellers' representatives told the committee that they "feel like second class citizens on a daily basis".

It is believed that there are about 40,000 Irish Travellers in Ireland, 15,000 in Britain and 10,000 of Irish descent living in the United States.

The committee invited several Travellers' groups to testify before them, including the Irish Travellers Movement and Pavee Point Travellers Centre.

Brigid Quilligan, director of the Irish Travellers Movement, spoke to the committee about the impact of not being recognised in one's own country as an ethnic group.

"No matter how many boxes we tick or how much we fulfil our requirements and responsibilities in Irish society, we still experience discrimination and prejudice in every area of life on a daily basis," she said.

"People justify racism against us by stating we bring it on ourselves. That is what the general Irish population thinks about us and we know this.

"We feel the hate, as do our children. We see the hate in the media and displayed by people in positions of responsibility."

Ms Quilligan said it "not good enough" for the Irish state not to offer Travellers the protection to which they were entitled.

She said "anti-Traveller sentiment" was common in newspapers, television programmes, social media, shops and on public transport.

Martin Collins, director of the Pavee Point Travellers Centre said that for his community, the "recognition of Traveller ethnicity is the human rights issue of our generation".

"Not to recognise Traveller ethnicity has profound implications in terms of legal protection. It is questionable whether Travellers are afforded the full protection of the EU race directive," he said.

"There are also implications concerning support for Traveller nomadism, language, culture, history and the inclusion of Travellers in intercultural and anti-racism initiatives."

The report calls on the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach) or Minister for Justice to make a statement to the Irish Parliament (Dáil), confirming that the state recognises Travellers as an ethnic group.

It also recommends that the Irish government writes to relevant international bodies, confirming that it recognises Traveller ethnicity, and says the government should examine whether any new legislation is required.

The report will be sent to the Irish minister for justice.

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