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Speech by Mr David Stanton TD, Minister of State for Justice with special responsibility for Equality, Immigration and Integration, 
for the launch of 
the ESRI’s research paper: “A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland”

Tuesday 17 January 2017

Good afternoon to everyone here today. I am delighted to be here with you for the launch of the ESRI’s research paper “A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland”.

I would like to express my thanks to Professor Alan Barrett for his invitation to address you.

I would also like to thank the paper’s authors – Dorothy Watson, Fran McGinnity and Oona Kenny - for their excellent research into the important matters affecting Travellers in our community.

This research paper was carried out at the request of my Department and demonstrates our commitment to identifying and addressing the issues and challenges affecting the lives of Travellers in Ireland.

As emphasised clearly in this research paper, although a relatively small group in Ireland (accounting for less than 1% of the overall population of this country), Travellers experience disadvantage in terms of employment, education, housing and health and in facing strong levels of prejudice. We need to work together to address those problems.

I note that the ESRI’s paper drew some material from the All Ireland Traveller Health Study which was also an excellent piece of research. Furthermore, I note that the ESRI drew from Census data to gain insight into issues affecting Travellers. With the findings of the 2016 Census due shortly, I look forward to seeing if any of the issues identified by the ESRI team have changed in the interim.

As you may be aware, my Department has led a comprehensive consultation process to develop a new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy to improve the situation for Travellers and Roma in Ireland.

This process, which is nearing completion, will provide a new set of specific, cross-Departmental actions that need to be taken to bring about a real improvement in quality of life for Travellers and Roma.

The Tánaiste and I have been successful in gaining sanction for €1 million in additional funding for Traveller and Roma initiatives related to the new Inclusion Strategy. This is a deeply positive step forward and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to assisting these vulnerable communities in our society.

The question of recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group is under active consideration at the moment with Traveller representatives having been invited to address the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Social Policy in the coming weeks to discuss this matter.

Recognition of the distinct heritage, culture and identify of Travellers and their place in Irish society would be hugely important to Traveller pride, to Traveller self-esteem and to overcoming the legacy of marginalisation and discrimination that the Traveller community has experience.

This recognition has potential to create a new platform for positive engagement by the Traveller community and Government together in seeking sustainable solutions based on respect and honest dialogue.

I have had a long standing interest in this area, most notably through my chairing of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when, in April 2014, it produced its report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity

My officials and I are currently working to advance this issue and I will be meeting Travellers representatives to discuss this further later this week.

I am committed to achieving progress on the issues affecting the lives of Travellers. In particular, I am alarmed at the significantly high level of mental health problems in the Traveller community including the high rate of suicide.

I am also very concerned at the considerable non-completion rate in the education system by Travellers. Education is the key to all other sectors of life including employment and health. 

As a former teacher, I am keenly aware of the importance of attaining a good education and I would urge all Travellers, particularly those of you who have children, to do all in your power to encourage children to complete their education. I accept that, at times, this is not easy for Travellers but educational attainment is the first step to improving self-esteem, wider employment prospects and better health.

In closing, I would like to thank the Traveller and Roma representative bodies which have worked for many years to improve the lot of Travellers and Roma in Ireland. I encourage you to continue to engage with me and with my officials – I am committed to working with you to improve the lives of Travellers and Roma in our country. 

Finally, I would like to reiterate my thanks to the ESRI for this high quality research and to confirm that it will be a strong point of reference for my officials in identifying where efforts and funding need to be dedicated and in determining clearly where progress is made.

Thank you.