Martin Collins’ remarks on International Roma Traveller Day

Remarks delivered 8th April 2011 – Charleville Library, Dublin 1

“Let me remind you why we are celebrating International Roma Traveller Day. On this day 1970 the first Roma Traveller World Congress took place in London. This was the first attempt at trying to unite and give one voice to the many dispirit groups working with and representing Roma and Travellers across Europe.

Also on this day 1970 the Roma Traveller flag and anthem (Gelem Gelem) were formally adopted and I’m sure Matej will give us a verse or two of that anthem here today.

Roma Traveller Day is also about celebrating the diversity that exists within the Roma Traveller community in that you have Yenish, Sinti, Kale, Manouche & Gitano and others, and you also have a diversity of languages and faiths.

It is estimated there are between 12 & 15 million Roma and Travellers in the European Union, we have been part of Europe for centuries with the vast majority living in central and Eastern European countries (e.g. Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic etc.) but also present in all EU countries.

Research published by the Fundamental Rights Agency, European Roma Rights Centre, Council of Europe, European Union all say very clearly that Roma & Travellers continue to suffer extreme forms of poverty, racism, low educational achievement, low life expectancy and high unemployment rates, and lack political representation.

Of course the culmination of this racism was experienced in the Second World War when an estimated half a million Roma were killed by Nazi’s in the concentration camps. Roma and Traveller groups have fought long and hard to have this genocide recognised as many attempted to obliterate this from history.


I have just returned from a meeting of the European Roma Traveller Forum in Strasbourg, which in fact was the original concept in 1970 in that this is a pan-European representative group for Roma & Travellers. At that meeting I learned that there is the emergence again of right-wing extremist groups, who are targeting Roma.

I am aware that in Hungary in the last 6 months, a Roma village was attacked and 6 Roma were murdered including a father and his 5-year old son. It is said the police did not make any attempt to protect the Roma and in fact there is a suspicion they may have colluded with this attack.

In the last couple of months in Germany the authorities expelled Roma families back to Kosovo to spite the fact that some children were born in Germany and only speak German. A very sad example is a couple with a 16 year old son, the mother was ill and needed medical treatment, to spite the protest of many individuals and groups, this family were deported back to Kosovo and the mother died shortly after arrival because the medical treatment was not made available to her.


Of course, we’re all aware of the events in France last summer, where the French government deported en masse the Roma community back to Romania and Bulgaria, both are part of the European Union and their citizens are EU citizens, which include Roma, yet Roma from these countries are not afforded the same rights as other EU citizens. Are we creating a 2-tier Europe?

We had the same situation here in Ireland in July 2007, when over 80 Roma were left on the M50 Roundabout to fend for themselves without any shelter, food, etc. Pavee Point did intervene to offer them support. Of course we were heavily criticized and our funding was threatened. This is the reality on the ground for Roma & Travellers, there’s not a lot to celebrate there.

On a more positive note, in recognition of this reality, the European Commission are developing an EU Framework Strategy for the Inclusion of Roma & Travellers 2020, in fact its’ second draft is being presented today at a meeting of the European Roma Social Inclusion Platform in Budapest.

This framework strategy will be further worked on by the Hungarian government as part of their EU Presidency. It will be formally adopted by the Council of Ministers on the 22nd June. This strategy will require all EU governments to adopt national action plans on the inclusion of Roma & Travellers and will have very specific targets to be achieved in relation to education, health, accommodation, employment etc. These national action plans on Roma & Traveller inclusion will need to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of this year and periodic updates thereafter, the Commission in turn will report annual to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the progress of the national action plans.

The Irish government will be obligated to also submit a national action plan and this national action plan needs to be inclusive of both Travellers and Roma. This EU Strategy, as far as I’m aware is the first of its’ kind for Roma & Travellers. I believe it’s innovative and has been developed in good faith and Pavee Point and the Roma Support Group will work with the Irish government constructively on this to create positive change for our communities.”