Our Chairperson on Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity
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March 1st was a historic and symbolic day for Travellers as their more than thirty year struggle to have their ethnicity fully recognized and acknowledged was successfully concluded by the fullsome statement by the Taoiseach in the Dail. It also marks an event of historic and symbolic importance for all who support human rights and social justice for the diversity of humanity which is and has been part of Ireland and other countries globally
The UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which I have the honour to chair actively supports the widely held international consensus regarding the rights of people to to identify as members of particular groups and has called on states including Ireland for Travellers to acknowledge this self-identification. Identity denial is often a direct route to racism and a barrier to rights realisation. No one, as the Taoiseach said, should have to hide their culture to be respected or even included in society.
As a staff member at the Dept of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University I have been able contribute a little to the university education of a number of the Traveller leaders and of associated settled people working in solidarity with them who have so courageously and consistently created the conditions for yesterday. I have also had the privilege of standing in solidarity with many erudite and articulate Traveller women and men leaders whose education came through their struggles and through the work of local and national projects and organizations and their committed Traveller and non-Traveller workers and participants. As part of that work I’m also aware of the committment and contributions of key ministers, politicians and civil servants I and know the importance of the good will of other community and civil society organisations.
I know, as I’m sure they do, the importance of yesterday’s step for self-esteem and inclusion. The conditions have now been fully created within which the next steps can be taken towards full equality for Travellers as an ethnic group within the Irish nation. Rights gaps in the fields of accommodation, education, employment, health and other areas of Traveller life, however, have not disappeared overnight and remain to be addressed. I note and welcome the Taoiseach’s reference to the upcoming National Traveller Roma Inclusion Strategy and urge all involved from politicians to policy makers, civil servants and Traveller organizations to build on the working relations and parity of esteem which made March 1st possible in order to eliminate the entrenched and structural inequalities which continue to be experienced by Traveller women men and children in Irish society.
I only wish that my husband, partner and best friend, John O’Connell who worked so hard more than thirty years ago to support Travellers articulate and represent their right to ethnic identity were here to share the moment. May he and all the Travellers who have gone to their reward since then rest in peace
Chairperson UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Vice-President International Association for Community Development
Department of Applied Social Studies, Maynooth University, Ireland
Chairperson, Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre