Call for Travellers’ right to be acknowledged as a minority ethnic group in Irish society

Tuesday, April 28, 2015 - 10:00

Promoting and Progressing the Rights of Persons from Minority Groups
The Irish government should act immediately to respect Travellers’ right to be acknowledged as a minority ethnic group in Irish society, said Anastasia Crickley, Head of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University and Vice President of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) at a recent seminar.

“All the international conventions, including the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention on National Minorities, have recommended government action on this matter. It is again an issue for Ireland’s upcoming examination by the Committee for the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This is a matter of respect and dignity,” Anastasia Crickley said, noting that “persistent denial reinforces discrimination.”
The seminar, Promoting & Progressing the Rights of Persons from Minority Groups, brought together civil society, government and local authority officials, and academics on the Maynooth University campus to explore issues and concerns for minorities in Ireland and internationally.

Prof Patrick Thornberry, a global expert on minority rights and long-time member of CERD, commented: “The protection of minorities requires that racial discrimination be combated energetically and effectively,” and suggested that, “Gandhi's claim continues to ring true:  The way in which we treat minorities is the measure of civilisation of a society.”
Speaking about the global challenges, Prof Francesco Palermo, member of the Advisory Committee of the Framework convention on National Minorities, noted: “Minority rights are facing completely new changes compared to the time they have been developed. Rights are to be increasingly seen in a wider framework, against the background of cohesive societies, rather than in isolation. Multiple identities are the rule rather than exception; international and domestic instruments are evolving, taking such developments into account.”
Dr. Delia Ferri of the Maynooth University Department of Law reminded the audience that, “The rights of minorities encompass the recognition of minorities’ existence, non-discrimination and equality, and an effective minority policy aimed at promoting these rights must be subject to constant revision and directly linked to the changes of the societal reality.”
The seminar was addressed by Traveller leaders, including Rosaleen McDonagh, Maria Joyce, Martin Collins and Brigid Quilligan, who highlighted the individual and collective dimensions of the importance of state acknowledgement of Travellers as a minority ethnic group in Ireland. Martin Collins said, “Not acknowledging our ethnicity is indicative of how the state sees Travellers overall, and a move towards doing so would be of huge symbolic value.”
The event was co-hosted by the Centre for Rights, Recognition & Redistribution and the Department of Applied Social Studies and Department of Law at Maynooth University. More than 100 people from the Traveller community, civil society organisations, government and local authorities attended the seminar, which sought to explore issues and concerns for minorities in Ireland and globally with the foremost international experts in the field and to provide a framework for international experts and academics to dialogue with those directly concerned. The keynote speakers’ discussions of the various international legal approaches and personal contributions from local Traveller leaders sparked a stimulating discussion on the current challenges faced in Ireland and beyond.