Galway Traveller Movement have this week welcomed the recognition of Traveller ethnicity enacted through a Dail statement by an Taoiseach Enda Kenny on March 1. It was an historic day for the Traveller community that released a torrent of emotions from the community in Galway City and County. Although it was a week of mixed emotions, given the deferment of a decision on Traveller housing in the city, the group were in celebratory mood at the arrival of a keystone moment in their long battle to have their ethnicity recognised officially.
Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic group is not a panacea and will not address all of the challenges faced by the Traveller community; however GTM will use it as a stepping stone in its continued call for full equality for the community.
GTM will be promoting and celebrating Traveller ethnicity at events over the next few months starting with Traveller participation in the Galway City St Patricks Day Parade. It will follow that with a Traveller Ethnicity party in April for the Traveller community and friends who have stood in solidarity with them throughout the years. The movement will also organise local Traveller action groups across Galway city and county to discuss Traveller ethnicity, its importance and the next steps for action. The series of celebrations will culminate in a gala event at Galway’s second annual Traveller Pride awards and concert in the Bailey Allen Hall on May 29 as part of the National Traveller Pride Week.
Both young and old celebrated the announcement.
Mary Ward, a community health worker from Portumna believes that “It is a hugely positive step forward that will bring hope to my community. Recognition is about showing respect and dignity for all people, especially respecting Traveller culture and acknowledging the valuable contribution Travellers have made to Irish society”
She welcomed the statement from the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission which said that recognition of the Traveller ethnicity will be the catalyst for a rethink of how we focus resources on policies affecting Travellers, for example in accessing education, in accessing culturally - appropriate and safe accommodation and in accessing health care amongst other priority areas.
After the announcement on March 1, Mary Ward talked to Travellers in South East Galway and recorded some of the following reactions........
Anne Marie Roche, Loughrea — “This is the first step towards progression for our community. I was delighted to participate in the GTM ‘#Travellerethnicity now’ campaign. We gathered many signatures from the local community in Loughrea supporting the campaign, which we presented to the local TDs. I hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years for the next steps”.
Mary Ward, Portumna — “I was over the moon when I heard the news that Enda Kenny was finally recognising Traveller Ethnicity in the Dail”
Geraldine Harty, Loughrea — “I remember collecting signatures to support the recognition of Traveller Ethnicity 15 years ago. I’m thrilled all the hard work has paid off for Irish Travellers. This will ensure a better life for younger generations”.
Pat Mongan, Ahascragh — “I was genuinely delighted for all the Travellers living across Ireland to be finally recognised as being part of an ethnic group”
Ian Mc Donagh, BT Young Scientist winner — “Recognition of Traveller ethnicity made me feel so proud of my culture and identity I hope this recognition will boost the confidence of the young members of the Traveller community to be proud of their identity and to be proud of who they are”
Bridget Kelly community worker with GTM — We have a unique culture that should be celebrated and not denied. “The formal recognition by the Irish State means that we can now demand that our culture is validated, protected and promoted for current and future generations” she added.
Bridget Kelly’s son decided in his own right to post a comment on his face book page, stating his delight at finally being recognised as a minority ethnic group and got a discussion going with his own peers.
Nathan Kelly a 15-year-old young Traveller posted the following comment on his facebook page after hearing the announcement.
“ At last Travellers will be recognised as their own ethnic group. Might put an end to the constant racism we put up in everyday reality from people who have stereotyped us for years.Really is about time. Come on every Traveller copy and paste”
International studies show that racism and discrimination affect the lives and participation levels of children from various minority groups in society. “The voices of all children must be heard and their rights and needs addressed” commented Margaret Ó Riada, GTM project coordinator.
Identifying and addressing Traveller children’s needs will support and ensure equal access, equality of participation at all levels of education and quality outcomes for all Traveller children. Traveller children’s rights must be protected. Further research is needed in this area.
Annemarie Mc Donagh, The Community Employment supervisor believes that “the current acknowledgement of Traveller’s distinct ethnicity will validate and support our place in Irish society with the potential to elevate our status in the mind-set of the State and all its citizens”
Kathleen Sweeney, the GTM peer-led Primary Health Care coordinator said that, “It was a long struggle; over 30 years campaigning, but the Government are finally accepting what Travellers have been saying for years”
Joanna Corcoran, GTM Community employment supervisor believes that, “There is no conflict between nationality and ethnicity. Recognising Traveller ethnicity won’t make Travellers less Irish, it will however acknowledge Travellers’ dual identity of being both Irish and Traveller, similar to Irish Americans, African Americans, etc”
Martin Ward, the GTM enterprise and work project leader believes strongly that everyone has a right to participate in the economic, political, social and cultural life of the state. Unfortunately to date Travellers lives have been limited by prejudice and discrimination. Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic groups means that members of the Traveller community would automatically be included in anti-racism and intercultural policies and initiatives”