Press release 25th November Galway Traveller Movement
UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr Fernand de Varennes, has described the living conditions of some Irish Travellers, not just as a human rights issue connected with housing and accommodation, but in some cases probably discriminatory treatment. He was speaking yesterday at the ‘Galway Traveller Accommodation Inquiry 2021’ webinar for the ‘Traveller Homes Now’ campaign
“What we have heard are really unacceptable conditions under which Travellers are allowed to live and which would normally not continue were they not a minority still the subject of prejudices and bias in Ireland. These are really unacceptable, brutally unfair and unjust continuing housing conditions for many Travellers in Ireland,”, Dr de Varennes told the attendees, “I’ve noted that the Traveller families of Galway City Council and Galway County Council are continuing to experience extremely poor, unsafe and unhealthy accommodation conditions. “
Earlier the webinar attendees heard reports about the sub-standard living conditions experienced by many Traveller communities in the Galway area. It was reported that while there had been some improvements, the majority continue to live in cold, damp, and overcrowded conditions, often with sub-standard sanitation and cooking facilities. This is having a detrimental effect on well-being and mental health of members of the Traveller community.
The ‘Traveller Homes Now’ campaign is calling for the responsibility for Traveller accommodation to be taken away from local authorities across the country, and to be overseen by an independent, authoritative, and adequately resourced national agency instead.
Traveller and Roma issues internationally have been of considerable importance at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for some time now when it was recognised that Roma and Travellers have faced for 4-5 centuries of widespread and enduring discrimination, rejection, social exclusion, and marginalisation in all areas of life. Dr de Varennes said that anti- Roma and anti-Traveller sentiments still exists and that he has been following the situation of Irish Travellers.
“What I’ve heard and read suggests to me that there are differences of treatment here, of individuals belonging to the minority, the Travellers, who are living in conditions that would not be acceptable to others. And these kinds of conditions should really ring alarm bells”, he said, “There are clearly situations of discriminatory treatment in how some of the policies are interpreted and implemented, which clearly involves violations of one of the most fundamental of human rights, the prohibition of discrimination. So, the treatment here would not exist if they occurred to others in the majority of the population. It is that reason therefore that the conditions of the Traveller minority are allowed to persist over many years- too many quite frankly.”
Dr de Varennes advised the ‘Traveller Homes Now’ campaign about how they could work with the UN system to further their campaign. “In the UN Human rights System, housing issues can be dealt with through the lens of the general prohibition of discrimination. I would suggest that would open the door to additional approaches but other mechanisms the ‘Traveller Homes Now’ campaign should consider includes raising matters of delays, unaddressed, unhealthy or unsafe housing conditions, using once again, mainly the prohibition of discrimination.”.
In addition to raising the issue himself as UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Dr de Varennes suggested that the issue could also be raised with the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing. He also suggested that there were four other UN committees which might be interested in the issue: The UN Human Rights Committee; The Committee on Racial Discrimination; The Committee on the Rights of the Child; The Committee on Education, Social and Cultural Rights.
In agreement with Dr de Varennes at the webinar about using a ‘rights based approach to Traveller housing was another speaker and former UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Housing, Leilani Farha, who is now Global Director of ‘The Shift’ a movement to secure the human right to housing. She said that Irish Travellers have a strong and well-documented case to be answered. Ms Farha offered the services of her organisation. ‘The Shift’ to help the campaign. “We would be happy to support you,” she said, “Pressure from the outside world could have a meaningful impact.”
Anne-Marie Stokes, Joint chairperson of the Galway Traveller Accommodation Inquiry thanked Dr de Varennes for his contribution and suggestions. “He has been well briefed on the housing issue for the Traveller Community in Ireland and he has now given us a ‘road map’ about how we should proceed with the United Nations to ensure that housing and accommodation conditions improve for our community. We will be taking the issue up with them.”
Contact details Edel Hackett
Nora Corcoran – 089 – 2501089
Notes to the Editor: Photo and caption:
The ‘Traveller Homes Now Campaign’
- Raising awareness of the rights violations and inequalities the Traveller community experience in relation to accommodation.
- Demanding action on these inequalities through a set of demands developed collectively by the Traveller community in Galway city and county.
- Support Traveller leadership through community organising and activism in relation to Traveller accommodation issues.
- Develop demands and set indicators and targets through participatory processes with the Traveller community.
- Complete action research with and by the Traveller community to document right violations including homelessness, substandard accommodation and the denial of Traveller’s cultural right to culturally appropriate accommodation.
- Highlight Traveller accommodation issues including homelessness through narrative methods where the community are resilient active agents rather than victims.
- Alliance building with civil society groups locally, nationally and internationally.
- Use of creative campaigning methods including multimedia, film, photography and social media.
The Galway Traveller Movement
Galway Traveller Movement CLG was established in 1994. GTM is an independent Traveller organisation for Galway City and South East Galway made up of Travellers and non-Travellers. We have worked for more than two decades to challenge and respond to the structural inequalities that the Traveller community are subjected to.
GTM aims to address disadvantage, poverty and social exclusion experienced by the Traveller Community. The Company works from a community development approach to promote equality, the prevention of discrimination and the protection of the human rights of members of the Traveller Community at a local (Galway city and South East Galway ), regional and national level.
Full equality, social justice and human rights realised for members of the Traveller community, and meaningful participation of Travellers in social, economic, political and cultural life.
To challenge discrimination and racism experienced by the Traveller community in Galway city and county; to challenge the status quo and to empower members of the Traveller community to take action to realise Traveller rights.