Open Letter: Recognition of the Travelling Community as an Ethnic Minority in Ireland

We would like to lend our strong support to the motion recently before the Dail to recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority. This is a long overdue development. The preventable tragedy of Carrickmines brings this imperative further to the fore. History will not look kindly on those individuals and political parties voting to deny Travellers this basic right to ethnic recognition.

c/o Dr. Paul Downes, St. Patrick’s College, Dublin City University

Professor Gerry Whyte, Trinity College Dublin

Leah O’Toole, Marino Institute of Education

John Fitzgerald BL

Dr. Ann Louise Gilligan (retired), St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra

Dr. Padraig Carmody, Trinity College Dublin

Professor Ursula Kilkelly, School of Law, University College Cork

Dr. Stephen Kinsella, University of Limerick

William Binchy, Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College Dublin

Siobhan Phelan SC

Professor Aoife Nolan, School of Law, University of Nottingham

Professor Fionnuala Waldron, St. Patrick’s College, DCU

Marion Brennan, Early Childhood Ireland

Dr Mark Taylor, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr. Marie Moran, University College Dublin

Professor Carmel Cefai, University of Malta

Dr. Audrey Bryan, St. Patrick’s College, DCU

Declan Dunne, Sophia Housing and Homeless Services,

Denise Mc Cormilla, National Childhood Network

Dr. Maggie Feeley, UCD

Dr Anthony Cullen, Middlesex University, London

Dr. Sylwia Kazmierczak-Murray, Cabra School Completion Programme

Dr. James O’Higgins Norman, DCU

Dr. Padraic Gibson, The Bateson Clinic

Dr. Susan Pike, St. Patrick’s College, DCU

Fran Cassidy, Social Policy Consultant/Filmmaker

Dr. Maeve O’Brien, St. Patrick’s College, DCU

Frank Gilligan, Ballyfermot Local Drugs Task Force

Dr. Geraldine Scanlon, DCU

Dr. Catherine Maunsell, St. Patrick’s College, DCU

Dr. Majella McSharry, DCU

Dr Liam Thornton, UCD

Open Letter: Recognition of the Travelling Community as an Ethnic Minority in Ireland

Socio-Economic Rights, the Constitution and the ECHR Act 2003: O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council in the Supreme Court

Supreme CourtThis note is based on MacMenamin J.’s decision, available here. SCOIRL have a succinct post on the outcome in this case. A decision was also given by McKechnie J, and is not yet available. However, I understand that McKechnie J. came to the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons. With thanks to Patricia Brazil for providing me with a copy of the available decision. As this is a longer post that usual, you can find a copy of this post here.

The Context

On Friday, 13 March 2015, the Supreme Court gave an important decision in the case of O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council (not yet on courts.ie, Irish Times report here). The case revolved around the statutory duties upon South Dublin County Council (SDCC) in the area of housing and Traveller accommodation. The High Court, in a number of cases: Doherty v SDCC (2007), O’Donnell v SDCC (2007) (Laffoy J.) and O’Donnell v SDCC (2008) (Edwards J) (discussed here, pp 13-14), considered the duties of local authorities under Irish housing law and the impact of the ECHR Act 2003. The Irish Supreme Court have been exceptionally conservative when it has come to interpreting the Constitution as providing any form of socio-economic rights duties on the State.

The European Court of Human Rights has been reluctant to interfere with decisions of state/local housing authorities in the housing law arena. The ECtHR has stated that Article 3 and Article 8 ECHR cannot be interpreted as providing a duty on the State to provide everybody with a home, unless there are very exceptional circumstances at play (see, M.S.S. v Belgium and Greece, discussed in detail here).

The decision on Friday, 13 March 2015 in O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council provides at least a signal, that in very exceptional circumstances, legislative duties coupled with constitutional/ECHR rights may protect socio-economic rights. However, as will become clear below, the decision has not resulted in the provision of accommodation to Ellen (or other members of the O’Donnell family) and Ellen continues to live in accommodation that is inhuman and degrading. Continue reading “Socio-Economic Rights, the Constitution and the ECHR Act 2003: O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council in the Supreme Court”

Socio-Economic Rights, the Constitution and the ECHR Act 2003: O’Donnell v South Dublin County Council in the Supreme Court

Towards Affirmative Action in Irish Education

Amid accusations of educational apartheid in the admissions policies of Irish schools, a landmark Circuit Court ruling in Clonmel allowed an appeal by a secondary school against an Equality Authority ruling that it had indirectly discriminated against a Traveller boy in refusing to admit him. The admissions policy of the Christian Brothers High School in Clonmel is a familiar one in the Irish educational landscape: that the applicant be Catholic; that he would have attended a recognised feeder primary school; and that he would have had a father or brother who attended the school prior to him. Continue reading “Towards Affirmative Action in Irish Education”

Towards Affirmative Action in Irish Education

Guest Post: Siobhan Cummiskey on Travellers as an Ethnic Minority

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Siobhan Cummiskey, managing solicitor of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre. You can find out more about Siobhan on the Guest  Contributors page.

Travellers have once again been both literally and figuratively sidelined by the Irish government upon being consigned to the Appendix of Ireland’s State Report to CERD (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) in their combined 3rd and 4th report to the CERD Committee submitted in December 2009. The consignment of Travellers to a mere Appendix of a state report on racism is a most overt method of affirming the policy-endorsed position that Travellers are social dropouts, failed settled people and an economically deprived social group, as opposed to an ethnic minority.

The Irish government reiterated its tired mantra on the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority in their 2009 state report:

“The exact basis for this claim is unclear. The Irish Government’s view is that Travellers do not constitute a distinct group from the population as a whole in terms of race, colour, descent or ethnic origin.”1

Our neighbour, the jurisdiction of England and Wales, has recognized Irish Travellers as an ethnic minority through the courts2 and Northern Ireland expressly includes Irish Travellers in their equality legislation under the definition of an ethnic minority3. Our own Equality Acts 2000-2004 fail to include Travellers as an ethnic minority and instead list them as a separate group to whom protection will be provided in that particular legal instrument. The Irish government maintains in their 2009 report to CERD that equality legislation that fails to define Travellers as an ethnic minority but instead singles them out as a separate group worthy of protection, “does not provide a lesser level of protection to Travellers compared to that afforded to members of ethnic minorities. On the contrary, the specific identification of Travellers in equality legislation guarantees that they are explicitly protected.”

Continue reading “Guest Post: Siobhan Cummiskey on Travellers as an Ethnic Minority”

Guest Post: Siobhan Cummiskey on Travellers as an Ethnic Minority

Two Important New Reports on Minorities, Housing and Social and Economic Exclusion in Ireland

Two important new reports have been published this month which may be of interest to readers.

Travellers’ Health Matters (available here with an accompanying briefing on Traveller accommodation and planning) links poor halting site accommodation to depression, anxiety, diabetes and kidney problems. Findings on the terrible living conditions at the Carrowbrowne halting site are available here. For further reports on Irish Travellers and government policy, see the website of the Irish Traveller Movement.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All (available here with a press release here) is a FLAC report which ‘critiques the system of direct provision and dispersal as one that serves the needs of bureaucracy rather than the needs and rights of a vulnerable group of people to whom the State has a defined duty of care.’ Media coverage of the report is here , here , here and here. Liam highlighted the issue of direct provision on this blog in SeptemberOctober and November of  last year and it was the subject of two posts in our Immigration and the Politics of Belonging carnival.

We hope to have further analysis of the issues covered in these reports in due course.

Two Important New Reports on Minorities, Housing and Social and Economic Exclusion in Ireland

Darren O'Donovan: Travellers and the Irish Politics of Belonging

This post is contributed by Dr. Darren O’Donovan. You can read about Darren on our Guest Contributors page.

logoIn this post I want to underline the significance of past and present state policy towards the Travelling Community in understanding how Ireland, like all countries around the world, has silenced and rendered invisible of those who did not belong to, and could not be accommodated within, the idealised story of the Irish nation and majority cultural identity. The exclusion of the experiences of the Travelling Community from the Migration Nation Report as well as recent regressive state policies, underline that to this day, Travellers are regarded as residual to human rights protections relating to cultural rights and equality, as well as to the recent diversity debates in multicultural Ireland.

The watershed moment for Travellers rights was the Task Force Report on the Travelling Community 1995, which called for the ‘redefinition of the Traveller situation in terms of cultural rights as opposed to simply being a poverty issue’. The key to securing this recognition, and protecting it to this day, is an appreciation of the historical exclusion and the distinct identity of Travellers. This battle for history, like those across Europe, must not be influenced by present day derogatory attitudes, but by cogent documented research. The key document, which has long lain obscure and underappreciated, is the Report of the Commission on Itinerancy 1963. This offers the strongest evidence of deeply rooted stereotypical representations and silencing of Travellers. For instance, alongside assertions that Traveller women were unable to undertake housework and that Traveller men suffered from alcoholism and laziness, the Commission also noted that, while it had investigated the possibility of placing the majority of Traveller children within industrial schools, this would present too much of a burden upon the taxpayer. In order to preserve the life-story of the Irish nation, its ideal of Gaelic social communalism and attachment to land, Travellers were not to be understood as possessing cultural traditions, but were rather simply an impoverished group who were forced into occupying caravans by their own economic backwardness. Travellers threaten to rupture the majority’s preferred history, and it requires a conscious identity project to explain away their origins and exclusion.

Continue reading “Darren O'Donovan: Travellers and the Irish Politics of Belonging”

Darren O'Donovan: Travellers and the Irish Politics of Belonging