‘Whiden Toie,’ A celebration of Traveller Culture.

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The Road to Recognition and Rights. Galway Traveller Movement calling for social justice and equality for the Traveller community.

Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) is celebrating twenty years of partnership and advocacy with the Traveller community in 2014. On the 10th March 2014 GTM is launching its Programme of Events celebrating Traveller culture at 12pm at GTM offices, Headford Road.

Galway Traveller Movement was established in 1994 under the name Galway Traveller Support Group. In the last twenty years GTM has advocated for improved conditions for Travellers in the areas of accommodation, health, education/training, enterprise/work, justice and rights with a focus on community work and human rights based approaches to achieving social change.

Commenting on the 20 years celebration, Julie Sweeney stated, ‘It is a case of a lot done a lot more to do. When GTM started the conditions that Travellers in Galway were living in were largely appalling. Only a small number of Travellers had any education and the health status of the community was frightening. Now, 20 years on, we have a healthy vibrant organisation that is a dynamic partnership of Travellers and the settled community. GTM has supported many Traveller young people and adults to remaining on or return to education, including third level education, and Travellers are now taking up positions within GTM and other organisations. I started as a CE scheme participant and worked my way up to be the CE Supervisor since 2001’.

Kathleen Sweeney is another member of the Traveller community. She also worked her way up through GTM and she is now the Co-ordinator of the Primary Health Care Programme, a peer-led health programme. She stated, ‘there is no doubt that the work of the Primary Health Care Programme has led to an improvement in the health status of Travellers in Galway. However, as the All Ireland Traveller Health Status Study indicates much work remains to be done in the area of Traveller health and wellbeing and this is best done working at grass-roots level with the community to identify and address the issues.’

Other key achievements include the enterprise development section of the organisation. Projects under this umbrella include the Empowering Women Entrepreneurs project and a community services programme that addresses fuel poverty. In this way, enterprises and jobs for men and women in the Traveller community are created and supported.

Promoting leadership amongst Travellers is also crucial. GTM has also been very proactive in ensuring that Travellers are supported to represent the issues of the community in the city and the county. Using EU Equality for Women programme funding, GTM initial programme established three Traveller women’s groups around the city to foster women’s leadership and participation in decision-making within

their communities. The Travellers employed in the GTM are very proactive in encouraging other Travellers to become part of the movement. GTM has also developed a level of expertise in delivering equality and diversity training to agencies, organisations and services, including state services and in university programmes. The purpose of this training is to encourage services and institutions to challenge their own practice and ensure the delivery of inclusive and culturally appropriate services.

Hannagh McGinley is currently studying for a PhD in Education in NUI Galway. She stated, ‘it is crucial that we don’t allow ourselves to become complacent. Travellers all over Galway will tell you that they still face discrimination and racism in all aspects of their lives and this has a significant impact on their health – physical and mental, their education outcomes and their levels of employment. The recognition of Traveller ethnicity would go some way to show respect for the rights and dignity of my community. The continuous denial of recognition leads to a violation of rights and to the ongoing marginalisation of the Traveller community.’

The Galway Traveller Movement is calling on the Government and Minister Alan Shatter to address this violation as a matter of urgency. There is a need to reinstate anti- racism and inter-culturalism on the national agenda. There is a need to amend the Equal Status Legislation so that it becomes an effective instrument to offer real protection to the Traveller community. The need to address discrimination and racism as experienced by the Traveller community was the clear message given to GTM in a door to door survey carried out with 300 Galway city and county Traveller families in 2011.

Sindy Joyce completed her master’s degree in University Limerick in 2013. The focal point of her study was to examine the impact that racism and discrimination have on young Travellers’ use of both public and commercial space in Galway City. Sindy’s research reinforces the conclusions that others have drawn regarding the status of Irish Travellers as one of the most victimised groups in Irish society and highlights the need for specific attention to anti-Traveller racism. The study induced the veracity that young Travellers are severely restricted in their movements; access to public and commercial space is limited. This affects their life chances and opportunities.

Sindy Joyce, the GTM afterschool development worker finished by saying, ‘Like many organisations in the community and voluntary sector, GTM has faced stringent cuts to budgets over the past few years. Coupled with cuts in other areas such as in Traveller education, cuts to CE and other areas, GTM is struggling to maintain services in the context of an ever increasing demand. However, despite this GTM will continue using community work and human rights based approaches in our struggle to achieve full equality for Travellers.’

The GTM 20 Year Anniversary Programme of Events includes the launch on the 24th of March of the INAR (Irish Network Against Racism) I Report and anti racist election protocol plus the promotion of the Galway Traveller Movement Anti-Racism Log. The Log will create an opportunity in Galway for Travellers to report their experiences of racism. The data gathered will be vital in identifying the nature and prevalence of racism against Travellers in Galway.

From the 3 to 23th of June, as part of Traveller Pride week, GTM will hold an art exhibition reflecting on Traveller lives in Galway City and County- The road to Recognition and Rights at Galway City Museum and in the Library in Ballinasloe the last week in June. The twenty year celebrations will close with a symposium and concert at NUIG in October with Travellers taking the lead on highlighting the contribution made by the Traveller community to Irish and Galway society but more importantly the debate will deliberate on structural inequality as experienced by the Traveller community. GTM will invite diverse voices from civil society to stand in solidarity with Travellers on the day calling for social justice and equality.

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