48. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality when she expects recognition of Traveller ethnicity to take place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [37957/16]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): As the Deputy is aware from my response to previous questions on this issue, there is a comprehensive consultation process underway (led by my Department) to develop a new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy to improve the situation for the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland. Phase 1 (identification of key themes for the new Strategy) and Phase 2 (identification and agreement of high level objectives under each agreed theme) of that consultation process have been completed. The final phase, Phase 3 (identification of detailed actions to achieve each agreed objective, with associated time-scales, key performance indicators, institutional responsibilities and monitoring arrangements), is currently underway. This process 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. It is intended that the new Inclusion Strategy will run to 2020 and that it will be in place later this year.
The issue of recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group is being considered in the context of the development of the Inclusion Strategy. In September 2015, my predecessor brought a paper to Cabinet Committee on Social Policy on the question of recognising Travellers as a distinct ethnic group within Irish society. This followed a process of dialogue with the national-level Traveller NGOs during 2015, which culminated in the presentation of an agreed position paper by them and confirmation that there are no legal or legislative or expenditure implications arising from such recognition. The key point is that recognition of the distinct heritage, culture and identity of Travellers and their special place in Irish society would be hugely symbolically important to Traveller pride, to Traveller self-esteem and to overcoming the legacy of marginalisation and discrimination that the community has experienced. Such a symbolic gesture – as the Traveller NGO paper argues – could have the 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 it produced its report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity (April 2014). When I spoke earlier this year at the Traveller Pride awards, I stressed that we need to broaden the discussion on this issue. I will be making a presentation to the Cabinet Committee on this matter shortly and my officials and I are currently working to advance this issue.