are widely acknowledged as one of the most marginalised
and disadvantaged groups in Irish society. Travellers fare
poorly on every indicator used to measure disadvantage:
unemployment, poverty, social exclusion, health status,
infant mortality, life expectancy, illiteracy, education
and training levels, access to decision making and political
representation, gender equality, access to credit, accommodation
and living conditions. It is not surprising therefore, that
the Economic and Social Research Institute concluded that
"... the circumstances of the Irish Travelling people are intolerable. No humane and decent society, once made aware of such circumstances, could permit them to persist".
(ESRI, July 1986, Paper no. 131). The ESRI also stated that Irish Travellers are
"... a uniquely disadvantaged group: impoverished, under-educated, often despised and ostracised, they live on the margins of Irish society".
While there is a broad consensus on the low status, marginalisation
and disadvantage of Travellers, there is far less agreement
and much dissent when the issues of discrimination and especially
racism are raised. In particular, there can be strong resistance
by policy makers and others to the idea of a causal relationship
between discrimination/racism and the poor living circumstances
of Travellers (see, for example, McVeigh 1997 and Ryan 1996).
This paper sets out to provide a framework for examining
issues of discrimination and racism as well as the accuracy
and relevancy of applying such terms to the situation of
Travellers in Ireland. It begins by tracing the development
of government policies in relation to Travellers and how
these have evolved, assisted by internal and external influences.
The paper will refer to the widespread tendency to deny
the existence of racism despite evidence of a racialisation
process in both media and political discourse. It also presents
definitions and different approaches to racism, as well
as examples of the specific manifestations of anti-Traveller
discrimination. Finally, it will outline some possibilities
and directions for tackling racism at national and European
Development of Policies at National Level
The first phase of a clear and explicit government response to the Travellers in Ireland can be linked to the Report of the Commission on Itinerancy in 1963. The terms of reference of the Commission are revealing in the way the problem being addressed is conceptualised. The Commission set out
"to enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers; to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life. . ." In order to provide a better way of life for Travellers the Commission undertook "to promote their absorption into the general community. . ."
The starting point for the Commission was that itinerancy was a problem to be eliminated, and rehabilitation, settlement and assimilation were the means for achieving this. Travellers were viewed as a problem; the Commission Report comments on the social and ethical behaviour of Travellers and their tendency to keep aloof from the majority population. There was no explicit acknowledgement or examination of discrimination towards Travellers. In fact, critics of the Report saw the assimilationist policies it pursued as being discriminatory and racist.1
In the subsequent two decades the Report of the Commission provided a framework for action and understanding of Traveller issues. Interventions were viewed as being 'for' rather than 'with' Travellers. Travellers were frequently referred to as being in need of charity rather than rights. In so far as there was a criticism of the majority population it was expressed in terms of failure to live out the Christian gospel (Bewley, 1974).
The second phase in government policy development with regard to Travellers is contained in the Report of the Travelling People Review Body, 1983. This report had the benefit of twenty years experience since the earlier report and shows a significant shift in thinking by policy makers and others involved with Travellers. The Review Body was asked to examine
"the needs of Travellers who wish to continue a nomadic way of life"
"barriers of mistrust between the settled and Travelling communities can be broken down and mutual respect for each others' way of life increased"
. Opposition from settled and Traveller activists to the assimilationist approach contributed to a revision of the thinking. Concepts such as absorption, settlement, assimilation and rehabilitation were no longer acceptable and were rejected in the report. The term 'itinerant', which was associated with vagrancy and deviancy, was replaced with 'traveller', which was a recognition of a distinct identity.
Prejudice and hostility, misunderstanding, resistance, indifference and harassment towards Travellers were acknowledged as issues and integration was the goal. However, there was great reluctance to name discrimination as an issue:
"The Review Body is pleased to record that there is no evidence of discrimination against Travellers in the granting of social welfare assistance and in gaining enrolment in local primary and second level schools"
. The Report does refer to
"...many instances of bias against Travellers in the allocation of tenancies of local authority houses"
. However, the Report, in its eagerness not to be critical of official efforts, is quick to point out that
"... (local) authorities deserve recognition for their accomplishments, often attained in spite of considerable local opposition"
1While the settlement programme could claim some success in terms of more Travellers living in houses, and more children attending schools, there were many indications of 'failure', also: twenty years later there was still the same number of Travellers living on the roadside in poor circumstances; many living in houses were not integrated and continued to experience social exclusion; some Travellers who settled left houses and returned to living in caravans
The Review Body did consider the desirability of having special legislation to outlaw discrimination against Travellers as a minority group but concluded that:
"... such legislation would be fraught with difficulties, especially in the absence of a precise legal definition of 'traveller'. Accordingly, the enactment of anti-discrimination laws is not sought"
However, the naming of Travellers in legislation, without any perceived need (on the part of the government) to define 'Traveller', took place in three pieces of legislation in Ireland, subsequent to the publication of the Report and before the Task Force Report of 1995, in effect in direct contradiction of the above:
- The 1988 Housing Act,
- The 1991 Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, and
- The 1993 Unfair Dismissals (Amendment) Act.
The third phase of policy development can be associated with the publication of the Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community in 1995. This document devotes a full section to the issue of discrimination, which is a reflection of the fact that the key Traveller support groups had made this a priority issue for the previous ten years. It had also become a major media issue. Discrimination and access feature right through the document in relation to Traveller/settled relations, culture, accommodation, health, education and training, youth service provision, the Traveller economy, Traveller women and disabled Travellers.
"Academic debate and various international fora focus attention on the link between racism and cultural difference, particularly in scenarios of unequal power relationships. The forms of prejudice and discrimination experienced by the Traveller community equate with racism in the international context"
. The Report also refers to the need to combat discrimination with legislation and education.
"Over the past decade discrimination against Travellers has not diminished. Such a scenario requires new initiatives and new approaches. Public debate has increasingly focused attention on the need for legislative initiatives"
In Ireland, the 1995 Task Force Report outlines the different types of discrimination experienced by Travellers at the individual or interpersonal level and at the institutional level. According to the report, this discrimination experienced by Travellers can be direct and indirect, intentional or unintentional.
International Focus on Gypsies and Travellers
The new willingness to include Travellers in legislation resulted in Traveller Support Groups, Travellers and others mobilising as advocates for Travellers' rights. It has also been facilitated to some extent by outside influences. In 1991, the European Parliament Committee of Inquiry on Racism and Xenophobia reported that, in Ireland:
"The single most discriminated against ethnic group is the Travelling People"
. The Committee, referring to Ireland, recommended
"that the only Member State which has not already signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, do so as soon as possible."
The UN Commission on Human Rights, in their report Elimination of Racism and Racial Discrimination, 23rd November, (1994), deals with contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance in a wide range of countries. The report states that:
"Gypsies, also called Tsiganes, Rom or Romanies, are a group which is particularly targeted by rising racism and xenophobia in Europe"
. With regard to Irish Travellers the report states that:
"Travellers have experienced widespread discrimination in Ireland . . ."
"Travellers have also expressed the view that, where accommodation and services are provided, these do not always adequately reflect their needs"
The Minority Rights Group International report published in 1995, entitled Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority, says:
"Policies towards Roma/Gypsies have always constituted, in one form or another, a negation of the people, their culture and their language. Past policies can be broadly grouped into three categories: exclusion, containment, and assimilation".
Denial of Racism
While there is a willingness to acknowledge that there is widespread prejudice towards Travellers in Irish society and also a recognition of discrimination against Travellers there is still strong resistance among the Irish public, to calling the treatment of Travellers racist. The title of an education pack
"I'm No Racist, and What Is It Anyway?"
, (Calypso Productions, 1997), is a clever depiction of this resistance. The reasons for this denial of racism are complex and varied. First of all, Irish people are not unique in their tendency to deny the existence of racism in ourselves and in our country. Most countries have similar experiences of people seeing racism in the distance while refusing to acknowledge it at home or in themselves.2 Secondly, there is a tendency to see racism only in relation to skin colour. When the issue of defining the meaning of black and white arises and is combined with the task of categorising a range of other shades of skin pigmentation the issue ceases to be so simple. Usually, this involves resorting to confused usage of such concepts as 'races', 'race relations' and nationality. For instance, it is frequently said that Travellers cannot experience racism because they are white, are not 'a different race' nor a different nationality.
This denial, confusion, as well as a tendency to blame the victim is evident in this excerpt from a written submission by an Irish MEP to the Committee of Inquiry into Racism and Xenophobia in 1990:
"Ireland is a racially homogeneous country with no ethnic minority groups. As a consequence there are no racial problems of the kind experienced in countries with such groups. Neither is there a large presence of foreigners. . . the position could alter if the influx became sustained. . . there is however a minority group of travelling people giving rise to some of the problems associated with racism.3"
2. Eurobarometer Opinion Poll No. 47.1, Racism and Xenophobia in Europe, 1997.
3. Quoted in O'Connell, John. Reach Out, Pavee Point, 1994.
The mistaken tendency to equate 'race' with colour has been refuted by many academics such as Charles Husband, who refers to this quote from Charles Kingsley's correspondence about his visit to Ireland in 1860:
... "I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country ... to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours".
This quotation reflects the racialisation process whereby members of a group, in this instance the (white) Irish, are identified as belonging to a 'race' category on the basis of fixed characteristics which they are assumed to possess. Central to such race-thinking are notions of superiority and inferiority, and of purity and pollution. These notions are clearly evident in the following excerpt from a debate in the House of Commons in 1953 referring to Africans:
"Let us remember that 95% of them are primitive people. One of the reasons why they are not generally accepted into hotels is because their sanitary habits are not all that could be desired ... The effect of alcohol upon an African is remarkable ... alcohol seems to bring out all the evil instincts in the African in the most astonishing way ... "
(Miles and Phizacklea, 1984)
Racism, as reflected in these references, is more than a prejudicial attitude. It involves a pattern of social relations, structures and an ideological discourse which reflects unequal power between groups. This understanding of racism will be examined and developed further below but as it is dependent on a racialisation process let us first take a look at the role of the media in this process and in the reproduction of racism towards Travellers.
The Media and Racism
The following newspaper accounts illustrate
how the negative portrayal of Irish Travellers contributes
to the ideological racist discourse. Under a section on
crime in the Sunday Independent (28th January, 1996), was
the following headline: Time To Get Tough On Tinker Terror
'Culture'. According to the article by Mary Ellen Synon,
Garda believe that Travellers are responsible for over 90%
of attacks on the rural elderly4 . The writer
states that Traveller culture ...
"is a life of appetite ungoverned
by intellect ..... It is a life worse than the life of beasts,
for beasts at least are guided by wholesome instinct. Traveller
life is without the ennobling intellect of man or the steadying
instinct of animals. This tinker "culture" is without achievement,
discipline, reason or intellectual ambition. It is a morass.
And one of the surprising things about it is that not every
individual bred in this swamp turns out bad. Some individuals
among the tinkers find the will not to become evil".
An article on Travellers by journalist
Brendan O'Connor, also in the Sunday Independent (25th May,
1997) used another sensational headline:
"Patience Runs Thin When Uncivilised Travellers
to cover a piece on Traveller feuding.
The writer gave a detailed account of the feud in a cemetery
and concluded that
"It just doesn't happen in a civilised society".
He then went on to justify his use of the
"Where I come from the word "knacker" doesn't
mean someone of any specific socio-economic or ethnic background.
It means someone who behaves in a way that society abhors.
And that's what the people who desecrated a Tuam graveyard
last June were, knackers and scumbags"
The same journalist insists on using similar
language in other reports, and the sub-editor used the offensive
term in the headline.
"Good relations knackered"
The conflict is not between settled and Traveller. It's
between decent people and 'knackers'. (Sunday Independent
31 August 1996)
The anti-Traveller discourse features
frequently in both national and especially local newspapers
and radio. Very often, as in the following, local politicians
are being quoted:
"They are dirty and unclean.
Travelling people have no respect for themselves and their
children". (County Councillor quoted in Irish Times, 13th
"These people have been
a constant headache for towns and cities throughout the
country". (County Councillor quoted in Cork Examiner, 13th
"Killarney is literally
infested by these people". (County Councillor quoted in
Cork Examiner, 18th July, 1989)
"They are a constant problem,
moving from one open area to another and creating problems".
(County Councillor quoted in Cork Examiner, 13th June, 1990)
"Deasy suggests birth control
to limit traveller numbers" (Headline in Irish Times, Friday,
June 14, 1996.)
In the Dail Report column referring to
remarks by Mr. Austin Deasy, T.D. Fine Gael, the deputy
is reported as saying that the problem of Travellers would
not be solved by providing more halting sites but by ensuring
that Travellers' numbers be contained by birth control and
assimilation into existing housing estates.
"Traveller tradition not
a divine right."
Brendan O'Connor applauds Councillor Ann Devitt for suggesting
that Traveller culture is not sacrosanct, and that the time
has come for them to change their way of life. (Sunday Independent
June 15 1997)
"The sooner the shotguns
are at the ready and these travelling people are put out
of our county the better. They are not our people, they
aren't natives." Remarks of a Fianna Fail Councillor at
a Waterford County Council meeting. (Sunday Independent,
14 April 1996)
These samples of media coverage of Travellers
provide some indication of how Travellers are perceived
and treated in Irish society. This paper argues that such
coverage and the social relations associated with it constitutes
a form of racism. As Helleiner demonstrates,
"the powerful discourses of the press contribute
to the creation of an ideological context which legitimates
coercive state policies, everyday discriminatory practices,
and ultimately violence against Travellers"
According to Helleiner:
"While press reports of the 1960's and much
of the 1970's, were explicit in their portrayal of the Travellers
and the travelling way of life as problematic, during the
1980's overtly racist discourses were increasingly replaced
by more sophisticated discourses of exclusion."
However, the above sample of media coverage
would seem to indicate that this claim of a shift from overt
to more covert racism was inaccurate and it was certainly
not borne out in the 1990's coverage. MacGréil in
his Prejudice in Ireland Revisited (1996), states that
"Irish Travellers are still seen and treated
as a 'lower caste' in society. . ."
According to his research findings there
has been a substantial deterioration in attitudes towards
Travellers since 1972-3, leading him to conclude that
"Irish people's prejudice against Travellers
is one of caste-like apartheid."
Kenny in her investigation into the interaction
between Traveller ethnic identity and schooling concludes
"dominant sedentary society and its institutions
remain the instigators and maintainers of institutional
and interpersonal racism and exclusion, which has pressured
Travellers over a long time-span into distorted performances"
Quite clearly, a racialisation process
inferring the inferiority of Travellers is the outcome of
media and political discourse. Let us now return to the
issue of definitions and theoretical approaches.
4 cf. Pavee Point,
Policy Statement on Violence and Crime, February 1996 (unpublished).
Racism and Racial Discrimination
Racism is a specific form of discrimination
usually associated with skin colour and ethnicity. It is
an ideology of superiority which provides a rationalisation
for oppression. It also involves an abuse of power by one
group over another group. So, while racism involves negative
stereotypes and assumptions it should not be reduced simply
to attitudes thereby equating it with prejudice, as pointed
out earlier in this paper. The reality of unequal power
combined with prejudice enables some groups to treat others
in racist ways by denying them access to opportunities,
resources and decision-making processes.
UNESCO, in its Declaration on Race and
Racial Prejudice (1978) provides the following definition:
"Any theory which involves
the claim that racial or ethnic groups are inherently superior
or inferior, thus implying that some would be entitled to
dominate or eliminate others, presumed to be inferior, or
which bases value judgements on racial differentiation,
has no scientific foundation and is contrary to the moral
and ethical principles of humanity".
The UN International Convention of Elimination
of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1969) defines racial
discrimination as follows:
"Any distinction, exclusion,
restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent,
or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect
of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or
exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental
freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or
any other field of public life".
Approaches to Racism
While these working definitions have broad
acceptance, the concept of racism is frequently contested
among academics and others. There is the polarisation between
those who argue that certain societies are inherently racist
and those who claim that racism is a less serious issue
related to the anti-social behaviour of some individuals.
There are also a variety of approaches which can be categorised
as follows: moral, biological, psychological, multi-cultural
and structural (see table, p. 9).
The moral, psychological and cultural
approaches tend to depoliticise the issue of racism by focusing
almost exclusively on individual attitudes and behaviours
dislocated from their social, political, economical, and
historical contexts. Solutions based on the moral approach
rightly draw attention to the reality that racism is a moral
issue even though the treatment of Travellers is rarely
presented in this way. If the Churches, for instance, speak
out on Traveller issues they tend to focus on prejudice
rather than racism, thereby over-relying on attitudinal
change. The psychological approach, as Kovel argues, is
by no means a sufficient tool for understanding the phenomenon
of racism; it is, however, a necessary one:
"Racism, far from being the simple delusion
of a bigoted and ignorant minority, is a set of beliefs
whose structure arises from the deepest levels of our lives
- from the fabric of assumptions we make about the world,
ourselves, and others, and from the patterns of our fundamental
Kovel shows how various fantasies and personality
traits can coalesce into 'race' prejudice and how this sheds
light on the history of racism:
"Racist psychology is a prerequisite of racial
institutions, and racist institutions engender a racist
The biological approach draws attention
to the objective reality of certain physical differences
and the specific form of racism associated with skin colour.
Anti-racism does not mean a denial of these differences
but does challenge the social meanings and interpretations
attributed to them. UNESCO statements have debunked the
so-called scientific racism based on biological determinism.
However, this theory keeps recurring in the form of socio-biology,
even though most geneticists and biologists acknowledge
"The designation of the world's population
into distinctive racial categories can no longer be considered
a tenable scientific enterprise"
(Troyna and Williams, 1986).
The multi-cultural approach is popular
with many people because it is non-threatening, and can
improve mutual appreciation and understanding between individuals
and groups; it can also contribute to overcoming communication
problems and misunderstanding, which may fuel racism. However
this approach is criticised for diverting attention away
from power differentials, structural oppression and for
overestimating ignorance as the main factor in the creation
The structural approach provides a sociological
framework for understanding racism in the context of changing
historical, political, economic and social processes. This
approach provides a mechanism for going beyond symptoms
and for addressing root causes. It also exposes how routine
practices and procedures result in black and minority ethnic
groups having lower incomes, higher unemployment, worse
health, accommodation and life chances than the majority
population and less influence on the decisions which affect
their lives. However, the approach has been accused of making
inflated claims (see Miles, 1989) and for deterministic
and doctrinaire explanations which ignore concrete situations
and individual personalities. (Donald and Rattansi, 1992)
Anti-Traveller Discrimination and Racism
In light of this examination of concepts,
definitions, and approaches to racism let us return to the
concrete situation of Travellers in Ireland and how they
experience discrimination. Individuals, when recognised
as Travellers, are sometimes arbitrarily refused entry or
access to public places or services such as: shops, pubs,
restaurants, laundries, leisure facilities and such like.
Individuals often experience verbal or physical abuse because
of their identity. Individual Travellers have also reported
incidents of insurance companies refusing to provide them
with motor insurance cover. A number of public houses consistently
refuse to serve Travellers, while others do so now and then.
Travellers frequently have difficulty obtaining hotels for
wedding receptions. Many policies, procedures, and practices
reflect either a lack of acceptance or a total denial of
Traveller identity. For many years Travellers experienced
segregation in the provision of social welfare services.
Travellers who wish to avail of supplementary welfare in
Dublin have to accept a 'special' segregated service. Negative
stereotypes and scapegoating of Travellers are commonplace.
Traveller children in schools have also experienced segregation
through 'special classes' although the current policy of
the Department of Education is based on the promotion of
integration. Nevertheless, some schools still refuse to
accept Travellers using the pretext of being full or unsuitable.
Travellers are also critical of a system which they feel
undermines or largely ignores their identity in the curriculum
and school ethos despite the extra capitation grants provided
by the government for schools with Travellers among their
There is also a clear gender dimension
to the Traveller experience of racism.5 Many
Traveller women are more easily identifiable than Traveller
men, and are therefore more likely to experience discrimination.
Sometimes evictions are carried out when Traveller men are
away, leaving women to deal with the brunt of male verbal
and physical abuse. But above all Traveller women, as mothers,
home-makers and carers, have to make do with low incomes,
in poor living circumstances, without basic facilities such
as running water and sanitation.6
Travellers with a disability have usually
been cared for in institutions, where assimilation was the
norm and where little or no consideration was given to cultural
5 Crickley, A.,
Feminism and Ethnicity, in DTEDG File, 1992
6 McDonagh, Rosaleen,
Travellers with a Disability: A submission to the Commission
on the Status of People with Disabilities, Pavee Point,
The most public and controversial area
where anti-Traveller discrimination arises is in relation
to the provision of accommodation. Local authorities and
resident associations are accused by Travellers and Traveller
support groups of turning the accommodation issue into a
political football. Elected local councillors are keenly
aware that their political survival depends on the support
of local residents who easily outnumber Travellers. Resident
associations make their opposition to Travellers living
in 'their' areas very clear. Local authorities in turn have
undertaken a 'boulder policy' which involves placing large
rocks along the roadsides where Travellers camped or might
camp illegally. This is combined with evictions of Travellers
from unofficial camping sites. Garda? and/or private security
firms are sometimes involved in the carrying out of these
The accommodation issue highlights the
underlying contradiction of the 'settlement' project, which
is based on a rejection of nomadism; a carrot-and-stick
approach to housing; and an unwillingness by the majority
population to have Travellers living near them as neighbours.
Local authorities and resident associations frequently debate
the idea of a Traveller quota, by discussing whether an
area has taken its "fair share of Travellers". The term
'settled Traveller' carries moralistic connotations of the
sedentarist thinking that goes with this. It suggests 'settling
down' or conforming to what is considered the norm. In line
with this thinking many people from the majority population
believe that Travellers living in houses are 'settled',
having thereby ceased to be Travellers. Nonetheless, such
thinking does not mean social inclusion as equals. Ultimately,
such thinking can be traced to the view that Travellers
are vagrants or drop-outs in need of rehabilitation.
The deplorable living circumstances of
many Travellers, because of the lack of suitable accommodation,
is a crucial factor in the poor health of Travellers. The
life expectancy of Travellers is far below the national
average, with Traveller men and Traveller women living on
average ten years and twelve years less than their sedentary
peers, respectively. Traveller infant mortality is more
than twice that of the majority population. These realities,
combined with a failure to address them comprehensively,
are seen by politicised Travellers and Traveller support
groups as other manifestations of institutional racism.
In recent years some Gypsies, particularly
Roma from Romania and Bosnia, have come to Ireland as refugees.
The negative reaction in the media to them and to other
asylum-seekers indicates the possibility of a dangerous
situation arising, unless steps are taken now to confront
racism and xenophobia in this context. 7
7 National Coordinating
Committee for European Year Against Racism, Newsletter.
Issue 4: June 1997.
The racism toward Travellers in Ireland
is similar to racism in general insofar as it involves negative
stereotyping based on notions of superiority and inferiority.
Likewise it builds on fantasies related to dirt, danger,
deviance, and crime. In common with some other forms of
racism it invokes a pariah syndrome which is used to deny
or legitimate the existence of racism. These particular
features have taken on their own specific meanings in relation
to the treatment of Travellers in the Irish context but
perhaps what marks off this form of racism from others is
the sedentarist approach to nomadism. Nomadism is viewed
as an atavistic aberration which has to be eliminated by
modernisation or failing that, coercion.
Traveller support groups have been to
the fore in drawing attention to and devising strategies
against the reality of racism in Ireland. (McVeigh, 1997)
While having a particular interest in Traveller issues efforts
have been made to develop alliances with other minority
ethnic groups. This is reflected in the setting up of the
Platform Against Racism, which is a coalition of non-government
organisations committed to developing ways to combat racism
and to promoting interculturalism. As well as providing
information on Travellers and promoting greater awareness,
Traveller organisations have also contributed to putting
anti-racism on the agendas of other organisations and projects
e.g. the Community Development Programme, Area-based Partnership
companies, youth organisations and women's organisations.
In recent years, Traveller organisations
have been able to avail of various European Commission programmes
in order to develop a transnational dimension to their work.
In particular, links have been developed between Traveller
and Gypsy organisations throughout the EU as well as with
other anti-racist organisations. Traveller organisations
have played an active role in other organisations such as
the European Anti-Poverty network (EAPN); in events like
the Social Forum; in campaigns such as that led by the Starting
Line Group; in the lobbying for the inclusion of a non-discrimination
clause in the Treaties during the preparations for the 1997
Intragovernmental Conference (IGC); and in committees and
events during the 1997 European Year Against Racism.
However, until recently, it has been almost
impossible to seriously tackle the issue of racism at a
political level within the EU because there was no legal
basis for this in the Treaties. However, since the revision
of the Treaties in Amsterdam, and the inclusion of a non-discrimination
clause for the first time, a new situation exists. The potential
for fighting racism at Community level has been created
but requires time and further campaigning to maximise this
potential. For instance, with sufficient political mobilisation
it is now possible to introduce a directive or a number
of directives to ensure that racism is tackled in each Member
The designation of 1997 as European Year
Against Racism has highlighted the need to take the issue
of racism more seriously and to combat racism in a more
concerted way throughout the European Union. The establishment
of a Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna
will enable Member States to collect and collate data for
anti-racist actions. Likewise support by the European Commission
for the setting up of a European-level mechanism for coordinating
the work of anti-racist NGO's will build on the momentum
of the year.
These developments at European level need
to be matched by clear commitments at national level to
tackling racism. Ireland's failure to ratify the UN International
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
and the lack of domestic anti-discrimination laws are the
source of major concern for anti-racist groups. Without
legislation, the efforts of non-government groups is considerably
weaker. Legislation in relation to non-discrimination in
Employment and Equal Status are long-awaited. In addition
to this legislation, Travellers and Traveller support groups
are relying on the government's implementation of the key
recommendations of the 1995 Task Force Report in order to
make progress. The establishment of a monitoring committee
for this purpose is a positive development in this regard.
The marginalisation of Travellers in Irish
society is acknowledged by people of varying political positions
and approaches. Past policies, while designed to overcome
this marginalisation, have sometimes exacerbated the situation
because of a failure to grasp the nature of the oppression
experienced by Travellers. In particular, the denial of
discrimination and racism, combined with a racialisation
process, contributed to that marginalisation. In order to
address this situation there is need for a comprehensive
approach involving statutory and voluntary bodies. Legislation,
information, and awareness-raising are needed to protect
people and to overcome obstacles to equality. In the context
of a growing acknowledgement of the dangers of racism throughout
the European Union, there is an additional impetus and opportunity
to face up to this challenge in Ireland, as well as throughout
(a) Traveller Population in Ireland
Estimated total 27,000
An annual count of the number of Traveller households is
the source of information on the Traveller population in
Ireland. The 1994 count showed that there were 4,905 Traveller
households in the country. The projected figure for the
year 2000 is 4,905 households.
(b) Age Structure
The age structure of Travellers is very
different from that of the general population, with relatively
large numbers of children and few older people. An estimated
40% of the Traveller population is aged under 10 years,
and well over 50% is aged under 15 years. Only 5% of Traveller
are aged 50 and over. This age structure is consistent with
a high birth rate, a high infant death rate, and a low average
Significant progress has been made in
the provision of education for Traveller children in recent
decades. This is evidenced in the increased participation
in the education system. However there still remains a substantial
number of Traveller children who do not attend primary school
on a full-time, regular basis. This can be due to the living
circumstances of the parents or to difficulty in gaining
access to schools. A large number of Traveller children
underachieve in school. The lack of statistical information
on Traveller participation in education makes it difficult
to evaluate the relative participation and outcomes for
Traveller boys and girls in the education system.
It is estimated that only about 10% of
Travellers continue on to second level and very few of these
complete the full cycle. Only a handful of Traveller go
on to third level.
Traveller participation in the mainstream
labour force is very low. This low participation is attributed
to a number of factors: a preference for self-employment
and work in the Traveller economy, discrimination, lack
of skills and qualifications, low pay and poor work conditions,
nomadism. The vast majority of Traveller households are
dependent on social welfare.
In the context of statutory provision
of social housing the local authorities provide standard
houses for some Traveller households and in addition Traveller-specific
accommodation as follows: group housing, permanent halting
sites, and temporary halting sites. The 1995 Task Force
Report drew attention to the deficiencies in this provision:
1,085 Traveller households living in trailers squatting
on roadsides; 275 households in temporary sites; no provision
for transient families; lack of facilities and/or culturally
inappropriate facilities; lack of planning for the projected
Traveller population increase; absence of a comprehensive
government plan to accommodate Travellers.
The Task Force called for the provision
of 3,100 units of additional accommodation by the year 2000,
(f) Health Status
The 1982 Black Report commissioned by
the UK government identified a clear link between social
inequality and ill health:
"From birth to old age those at the bottom
of the social scale have much poorer health and quality
of life than those at the top. Gender, area of residence
and ethnic origin also have a deep impact."
It is not surprising therefore to find
that the health status of Travellers is much worse than
it is for the general population.
Infant mortality for Travellers in 1987
was 18.1 per 1,000 births compared to the national figure
of 7.4. Traveller life expectancy is at the level it was
for the general population in Ireland in the 1940's (i.e.
10 to 12 years less for Traveller men and women than for
men and women from the majority population).
A Bibliography is available here