Above: A photo by Paul Reynolds of Crossbar Bikes which is part of the Clondalkin Travellers’ Development Group (CTDG).
The travelling community will finally be recognised by the Irish state as an ethnic minority when Enda Kenny makes a statement in the Dail today. Campaigners have been fighting for this recognition for more than 25 years. While this is a step in the right direction, it’s a long road to equality in society. Martin Leen caught up with members of the community Eileen Flynn, Bernard Sweeney and Trish Nolan to get their thoughts.
“To be recognised to be valued, this is one step closer to equality for the traveller community. Now this is where the real work starts for traveller community workers, for people who work with the traveller community changing policy and legislation that was brought in that is not working for the traveller community like the 2000 Trespassing act that was state discrimination against the traveller community. I feel absolutely mighty to be recognised as an ethnic minority group, to have more job opportunities, opportunities to second and third level education.
This is one step forward to equality for the traveller community but the real work starts here. In 2015 not even a month after the Carrickmines fire we went into the Dail and Aodhan O Riordain gave a talk on the 5th of November about how travellers should be recognised and supported. On the 6th the next day he didn’t come in for his vote, I’ll never forget that day, it was one of the saddest days of my life, sitting in the gallery and not to see us being recognised. So today to be recognised, it’s so long overdue, to feel this emotion. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or to believe it or not believe it.
Now I can go into pubs or clubs and not feel ashamed, if they ask me where I’m from I don’t have to lie, I can tell the truth and say I’m a member of the traveller community and if I get refused I have grounds to stand on.
Hopefully I won’t have to do that anymore, have to hide my identity, hide who I am because I’m proud of the woman I am. I’ll never thank the state for this because I had to fight so hard to get this recognition, I’m not to say thanks to Enda Kenny to anybody for giving us the recognition we deserve as a community.”
– Eileen Flynn
“This is the first step towards equality this recognition. But this is the only the first step because the institutional abuse of travellers, the psychological abuse, the forced assimilation that has been done to travellers cannot go unnoticed. A formal apology is the next step of our campaign; we’re not satisfied or happy. It’s not special status we are looking for, it never was, and it’s equal rights.
It’s not about comparing the best of one community against another community, it’s not about divide and conquer, it’s not about divisions, this is about human rights. We are a community that has been victimised, demonised, ostracised, and criminalised and we are a community working on the path to equality and we work in solidarity with all other minority groups in this island of ours.”
– Bernard Sweeney
“I have a very heartfelt feeling for traveller children that are taken into the care system where there is very acute assimilation which is detrimental to their identities, in that sometimes they are not welcomed back into the traveller communities because they have totally changed their ways, their values their perceptions of life. A lot of the time there is very acute discrimination of traveller children in care by the staff member in care homes and by other children.
Ethnicity recognition for travellers in care will be a huge benefit for children who come into care be it institutional homes or foster homes. These children will now have to be acknowledged for who they are, and how they perceive things differently and what their own culture is. This needs to be cherished.
It also opens up a whole can of worms about traveller children who have been in care in the past like myself who suffered very severe assimilation, there was no escape from it, and punishment simply for being a traveller. It’s great that our ethnicity is recognised and acknowledged but it will open up the whole area of what the denial has done to people in the past.”
– Trish Nolan
We spoke to activists working towards ethnic recognition in rabble#7 way back in 2014. Check it out here