Republic of Ireland news

Irish travellers' ethnic status formally recognised

Enda Kenny announced recognition of Travellers as an indigenous ethnic minority. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

THE formal recognition of Irish Travellers as an indigenous ethnic minority in the Republic is "historic", Taoiseach Enda Kenny said.

TDs rose for a standing ovation after Mr Kenny told the Dáil last night that the statement of recognition will help ensure Travellers have a "better future with less negativity, exclusion and marginalisation".

"The Traveller community has for many years campaigned to have their unique heritage, culture and identify formally recognised by the Irish State," he said.

"Our Traveller community is an integral part of our society for over a millennium, with their own distinct identity - a people within our people."

However, hundreds of Travellers were left out of Leinster House during the speech.

Several TDs, including Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams, had asked for the speech to be suspended to allow more of the large crowd inside.

But Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said the house could not manage the crowds.

He said the gathering outside the Dáil was "large and unprecedented" and there were not enough staff to ensure proper health and safety conditions.

President Michael D Higgins said the formal recognition was a "momentous decision, formally recognising Travellers' place in Irish society".

"I have written to the Travellers organisations that have campaigned and worked on this issue for many years, to convey my congratulations and appreciation for their work," he said.

"I have no doubt that today's clarification will be of assistance in interpreting legislation in relation to Travellers' rights, and ensuring

respect for Travellers' distinct identity within the fabric of Irish society."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland yesterday, former director of the Irish Traveller Movement Brigid Quilligan said the 40,000-strong community was overjoyed that their identity will be valued.

Ms Quilligan said while Traveller culture and distinct ethnicity was recognised by the settled population, it was seen as negative thing rather than positive.

"We want every Traveller in Ireland to be proud of who they are and to say that we're not a failed set of people," she said.

"We have our own unique identity and we shouldn't take on all of the negative aspects of what people think about us.

"We should be able to be proud and for that to happen our State needed to acknowledge our identity and our ethnicity and they're doing that today."

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said the recognition of Traveller ethnicity must be followed by proper change.

"The recognition of Traveller ethnicity has long been called for by the Ombudsman for Children's Office and others committed to tackling the serious challenges still confronting Traveller children in Ireland," he said.

"The recognition of Traveller ethnicity must be followed by concrete measures and timelines that will improve the situation for young Travellers."

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