A win for Equality and Human rights. History made as Traveller ethnicity finally recognised by the Irish State

By Rebecca GTM

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Galway Traveller Movement welcome the Irish States recognition of Traveller ethnicity enacted through a Dail statement by an Taoiseach Enda Kenny on the 1st of March. It was an historic day for the Traveller community that released a torrent of emotions from the community in Galway City and County. GTM would like to thank all the people who called into the project on the day and who sent best wishes. Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic group is not a panacea and will not address all of the challenges faced by the Traveller community however GTM will use it as a stepping stone in its continued call for full equality for the community. GTM will be promoting and celebrating Traveller ethnicity at events over the next few months starting with Traveller participation in the Galway City St Patricks Day Parade. GTM will follow that with a Traveller ethnicity party in April for the Traveller community and friends who have stood in solidarity with us. GTM will organise local Traveller action groups across Galway city and county to discuss Traveller ethnicity, its importance and the next steps for action. The series of celebrations will culminate in a gala event at Galway’s second annual Traveller Pride awards and concert in the Bailey Allen Hall on May 29th as part of the National Traveller Pride Week.

Ethnicity Group Mar 1

Both young and old celebrated the announcement. Mary Ward, a community health worker from Portumna believes that,

“ It is a hugely positive step forward that will bring hope to my community. Recognition is about showing respect and dignity for all people especially respecting Traveller culture and acknowledging the valuable contribution Travellers have made to Irish society”

She welcomes the following comment from the Irish Human Rights Equality Commission,

“ Recognition of the Traveller ethnicity will be the catalyst for a rethink of how we focus resources on policies affecting Travellers, for example in accessing education, in accessing culturally – appropriate and safe accommodation and in accessing health care amongst other priority areas” Emily Logan

After the announcement on the 1st of March  Mary Ward talked to Travellers in South East Galway and recorded some of the following reactions……..

“This is the first step towards progression for our Community. I was delighted to participate in the GTM ‘#Travellerethnicity now’ campaign. We gathered many signatures from the local community in Loughrea supporting the campaign, which we presented to the local TD’s. I hope we don’t have to wait another 30 years for the next steps”. Anne Marie Roche, Loughrea

“I was over the moon when I heard the news that Enda Kenny was finally recognising Traveller Ethnicity in the Dail” Mary Ward, Portumna

“I remember collecting signatures to support the recognition of Traveller Ethnicity 15 years ago. I’m thrilled all the hard work has paid off for Irish Travellers. This will ensure a better life for younger generations”. Geraldine Harty, Loughrea

“I was genuinely delighted for all the Travellers living across Ireland to be finally recognised as being part of an ethnic group” Pat Mongan, Ahascragh

Ian Mc Donagh, BT Young Scientist winner also attended the event in Leinster House last week and stated that the,

“Recognition of Traveller ethnicity made me feel so proud of my culture and identity I hope this recognition will boost the confidence of the young members of the Traveller community to be proud of their identity and to be proud of who they are”

There was a maturity to be seen and heard in the Dail on the night of the 1st of March with cross party support for the announcement.

“ We have a unique culture that should be celebrated and not denied” says Bridget Kelly community worker with GTM  “ The formal recognition by the Irish State means that we can now demand that our culture is validated, protected and promoted for current and future generations” she added.

Bridget Kelly’s son decided in his own right to post a comment on his face book page, stating his delight at finally being recognised as a minority ethnic group and got a discussion going with his own peers.

Nathan Kelly a 15 year old young Traveller posted the following comment on his facebook page after hearing the announcement on the evening of the 28th of February,

“ At last??? Travellers will be recognised as their own ethnic group??????Might put an end to the constant racism we put up in everyday reality from people who have stereotyped us for years???? Really is about time?????? Come on every Traveller copy and paste”

International studies show that racism and discrimination affect the lives and participation levels of children from various minority groups in society. “The voices of all children must be heard and their rights and needs addressed” commented Margaret Ó Riada, GTM project coordinator.

Identifying and addressing Traveller children’s needs will support and ensure equal access, equality of participation at all levels of education and quality outcomes for all Traveller children. Traveller children’s rights must be protected. Further research is needed in this area.

Annemarie Mc Donagh, The Community Employment supervisor believes that “the current acknowledgement of Traveller’s distinct ethnicity will validate and support our place in Irish society with the potential to elevate our status in the mind-set of the State and all its citizens”

Kathleen Sweeney, the GTM Peer led Primary Health Care coordinator said that, “It was a long struggle; over 30 years campaigning, but the Government are finally accepting what Travellers have been saying for years”

Joanna Corcoran, GTM Community employment supervisor believes that, “There is no conflict between nationality and ethnicity.  Recognising Traveller ethnicity won’t make Travellers less Irish, it will however acknowledge Traveller’s dual identity of being -both Irish and Traveller, similar to Irish Americans, African Americans, etc”

Martin Ward, the GTM enterprise and work project leader believes strongly that,

“ Everyone has a right to participate in the economic, political, social and cultural life of the state. Unfortunately to date Travellers lives have been limited by prejudice and discrimination. Recognising Travellers as a minority ethnic groups means that members of the Traveller community would automatically be included in anti-racism and intercultural policies and initiatives”

Kathleen Sweeney was delighted with the following statements from Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission,

“The state recognition of the ethnicity of our indigenous Traveller community puts Ireland back in step with Northern Ireland the UK and other EU partners, as well as responding to calls from regional and international monitoring bodies for human rights and equality including the Council of Europe and the United Nations”

“ with the unequivocal recognition of a distinct culture and identity , we can better anticipate and respond to the needs of the Traveller community” Emily Logan, IHREC.



Margaret O Riada- margaret@gtmtrav.ie 087-0517321

Joanna Corcoran- joanna@gtmtrav.ie      086-4120737


Additional Information

Travellers in Ireland

The number of people enumerated as Irish Travellers in Census 2011 was 29,573, an increase of 32% since census 2006. All counties apart from Limerick and Waterford showed increases in the Traveller population that were larger than the increase in the general population. The figure compares with 36,224 population of Travellers enumerated in the Traveller All Ireland Health Study (AITHS).

This increase was attributed to a greater disclosure amongst the Traveller population as regards their ethnic status and identity following collaboration between Pavee Point and the CSO in implementation of the ethnic question in Census.

When the last health study was completed. The areas with the highest population of Travellers is Dublin city and suburbs, followed by Galway, Cork, Tuam, Navan, Limerick, Ennis and Longford, which collectively account for 35% of the total Traveller population.



Census 2011 reports that the general age profile of Travellers is far lower than the population as a whole.

  • The average age of Travellers was 22.4 years compared with 36.1 years for the population as a whole, and over half of all Travellers (52.2%) were aged under 20.
  • Traveller males of retirement age and above (65+) numbered only 337 accounting for 2.3% of the total Traveller male population, in stark contrast to the general population where males of retirement age and above accounted for 10.7% of all males.
  • In 2011, Traveller children numbered 14,245 (accounting for 48% of the total Traveller population. The total population of children account for 25% of the total population.
  • The number of Traveller children increased by 30.3% between 2006 and 2011.


This data reflects other research which note that outcomes in terms of health and life expectancy for Travellers is significantly lower than that of the rest of the population.



In 2010, ‘Our Geels’, the All Ireland Traveller Health Survey (AITHS) was published by Department of Health. Key findings included:

  • Life expectancy at birth for male Travellers is 15.1 years less than the general population, as 61.7 years. The 2010 data represents a widening of the gap by 5.2 years (between 198713 and 2010). This is equivalent to the life expectancy of the general population in the 1940s. There are, however, marginal increases in male Traveller life expectancies at later ages. However, men in the community continue to have higher rates of mortality for all causes of death.


  • Life expectancy at birth for female Travellers is now 70.1 which is 11.5 years less than women in the general population, and is equivalent to the life expectancy of the general population in the early 1960s.
  • Traveller infant mortality is estimated at 14.1 per 1,000 live births (compared with the general population rate of 3.9).
  • There have been improvements in Traveller women’s health, notably (1) a narrowing the gap in life expectancy between Traveller and non-Traveller women of 0.4 years, (2) reduction in fertility rates to 2.7 per 1,000 population and (3) uptake of cervical screening at rates higher than the general population and uptake of breast screening at rates similar to the general population.
  • Access to health services is good, with Travellers stating that their access is at least as good as that of the rest of the population. Access to primary care services is an important element of health services delivery. Over 94% of Travellers have a medical card with this figure rising to 99% in the older age group and nearly 97% of all Travellers are registered with a GP. The Traveller Primary Health Care Project (PHCTP) delivers primary health care to Travellers, and plays a key role in supporting access to and information about health services: 83% of the Travellers interviewed received their health information and advice from the PHCTP and from the Travellers organisations.
  • Traveller women thought that outreach services like the Primary Health Care for Travellers Projects (PHCTP s) facilitated Traveller trust. As a result, Traveller women have a higher rate of participation in screening programmes compared with the general population: 25% of Traveller women participated in breast screening compared to 13% of general population; and 23% of the Traveller women had smear tests compared to 12% of general population.
  • The research reports that the general healthcare experience of Travellers is not as good as the general population, with communication cited as a major issue by both Travellers and service providers. Moreover, trust in services is a theme, and the AITHS found that the level of complete trust by Travellers in health professionals was only 41%. This compares with a trust level of 83% by the general population in health professionals.
  • Travellers have a greater burden of chronic diseases than the general population, with conditions such as back conditions, diabetes, and heart attack increased by a factor of 2, and respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic bronchitis increased by a factor of 2-4, in comparison with the general SLAN14 population.
  • Just under half of all Travellers feel discriminated against. This is experienced in all aspects of life. However, least discrimination is experienced in sport, followed by the health sector. Travellers have a strong sense of community and high levels of community/family support.
  • Suicide rates are nearly 7 times higher in Traveller men compared with the general male population. Suicide accounts for 11% of all Traveller deaths.


  • The AITHS findings reported that both Travellers and health service providers interviewed acknowledged that ‘social determinants’ were the main cause of the poor health status of Travellers, this includes accommodation, education, employment, poverty, discrimination, lifestyle and access and utilisation of services.


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