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Traveller Ethnicity needs to be recognised

Last Wednesday morning at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality, we heard a presentation on recognising Traveller ethnicity from a group of people who work in and are part of the Traveller community. Ms Ronnie Fay, Mr. Martin Collins, Mr. Thomas McCann and Dr. Robbie McVeigh gave a powerful presentation. It is time we all realised that recognising Traveller ethnicity means recognising that Travellers experience racism and discrimination. It is only by fully recognising the problem that we can work towards a solution. The dominant view on Travellers in Ireland has been that they are some sort of deviant settled people. The solution to the Traveller problem has been to try to turn Travellers back into settled people. In other words, it is contended that if Travellers are not part of a distinct community, they should be treated the same as the general population and assimilated into it. By doing so, however, their specific needs will not been met. They become invisible to policymakers and service providers, and the community suffers. The idea has always been rejected by Travellers themselves since it involves faulty analysis that has never worked. Despite the prevailing policies and strategies, Travellers have not disappeared and remain as much Travellers as ever before. Not including Travellers' needs, however, has resulted in very poor living conditions for them. Some 800 families live at the side of the road with no running water or sanitation. There are low outcomes in education. Some 55% of Travellers leave school before the age of 15 and only 1% of them attain a third level qualification.

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