CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
13 June 2017
Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the launch of the new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy for the years 2017 – 2021.
As you all know, since 2015 my Department has co-ordinated a comprehensive public consultation in relation to the drafting of this Inclusion Strategy.
At the end of that consultation process, I decided to hold back on the finalisation of the Inclusion Strategy pending the Government decision regarding recognition of Traveller ethnicity.
I have had a deeply-held interest in this topic over the course of many years. You may recall that, in 2014, in my then role as Chair of the then Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, I presented a report on the Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity in April 2014.
It is well known that there was a long-standing campaign by Travellers, over the course of several decades, to have your identity, culture and unique position in Irish society recognised and valued by formal recognition of you by the State as a distinct ethnic group. Such recognition is without prejudice to your also being part of – and self-identifying as part of – the Irish nation. To all of you who contributed to that campaign and who are here today, I say thank you.
I would like to point out that a lot of work on this issue had been carried out by my predecessor, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. There was also excellent work done by Senator Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and Senator Colette Kelleher on this issue and I am grateful to them.
In what was an unprecedented step, a delegation of four Traveller representatives met the Cabinet Committee on 06 February 2017 and feedback received from Cabinet Committee members following the presentation was very positive.
To Maria, Martin, Michael and Brigid and to your alternates Thomas and Kathleen, I want to use this opportunity to mention to all here how well you represented your community on that occasion. It was a privilege to hear you presenting your case to the Cabinet Committee.
The decision to announce State recognition of Traveller ethnicity, which was announced by the Taoiseach on 01 March 2017, has rightly brought great joy to Travellers. As I am sure you will agree, the evening of the Taoiseach’s statement in the Dáil was a memorable and remarkable occasion in the Dáil chamber.
In all of my years as an elected representative, I have rarely seen such a happy and emotionally charged occasion where all sides of the Dáil came together to mark – and indeed celebrate – an issue.
It was particularly special that the viewing gallery was filled with Travellers and advocates who had campaigned so hard for State recognition of Traveller ethnicity.
I truly hope that State recognition of Traveller ethnicity will act as the platform for transformative change for the Traveller community.
While not a legal or legislative issue, such a symbolically important gesture of respect by the State, will – I hope - empower Traveller leaders to call on your community to rise to the challenge of transformative action on important issues, in partnership with the State and on the basis of an honest dialogue and a focus on solving real problems for the benefit of your community.
The key argument for ethnic recognition is that recognition of the distinct heritage, culture and identity of Travellers and your special place in Irish society is hugely symbolically important to Traveller pride, to Traveller self-esteem and to overcoming the legacy of economic marginalisation, discrimination and low self-esteem with which your community struggles.
This is not to ignore the real problems that your community faces. However, this recognition by the State creates a new platform for positive engagement by the Traveller community and Government together in seeking sustainable solutions (which are based on respect and on an honest dialogue) to those problems.
Ethnic recognition has the potential to create the circumstances where my Department and other Departments and Agencies can engage with Travellers on – and Traveller leaders can credibly call on their community to participate in – an action plan to tackle and seek to solve key problems facing the Traveller community.
My Department has identified feuding as a pivotal issue that will be put centre-stage in the implementation of this Inclusion Strategy, in that the anti-social behaviour of a small minority of your community and its negative ramifications impact directly on mental health, physical health, position of women and children, employment and on accommodation issues. Design of a culturally appropriate intervention, in conjunction with Traveller representatives and relevant public sector bodies, to address this is one of the key pillars of the new Inclusion Strategy.
I feel that in implementing this Inclusion Strategy, it will be important to build on the wave of positivity arising for Travellers from the Taoiseach’s statement.
In the past week, I have been happy to attend several Traveller Pride Week events including the Traveller Pride Awards and the event in the IFI organised by Minceirs Whiden. It is apt now that, in the midst of Traveller Pride, we are launching this Inclusion Strategy. Your community really has a lot of which to be proud – your culture, your heritage, your skills, your storytelling, your music, your love of family – but you also need to work together and with us to ensure that the unique value of your community is protected into the future.
It is important to consider the position of the Roma community in Ireland. I recently launched a new Migrant Integration Strategy and implementation of that Strategy will also be relevant to your community.
It is worth noting, however, that some Roma are among the most deprived and marginalised people in our country. The new National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy addresses issues focussed on your community’s needs and, I hope, will result in an improvement in your overall quality of life in Ireland.
Ireland is now a diverse country and we need to work together to ensure that everyone feels welcome and included in our society and that everyone has the ability to fulfil their potential.
I was delighted to accept invitations to a number of Roma events across the country during the past year, as Minister, and I thank you for the warm welcome I received at those events.
I want to mention that my officials will be arranging the next meeting of the Roma Committee shortly and will be keen to hear your views in relation to the actions that relate specifically to your community.
I want to thank all of the officials from Departments and Agencies and all of the Traveller and Roma advocates who contributed to this Inclusion Strategy. I think it is a valuable step forward in the lives of Travellers and Roma in Ireland. I am now delighted to formally launch the Inclusion Strategy.
You might like to note that we chose the cover design of this Inclusion Strategy on the basis that it reflects a new dawn and – I hope – represents a new and exciting phase for Travellers and Roma in Ireland.
There are some copies of the Inclusion Strategy available here today. It will also be available for download from my Department’s website later today.
I have stressed that the Inclusion Strategy must be regarded as a living document, with monitoring of its implementation a key and integral part of its potential success.
As you know, there is likely to be a change of responsibilities at Ministerial level shortly. I want to assure you that, whatever happens, I will continue to work to support your communities.
I hope that you will join with us now to celebrate the launch of this Inclusion Strategy and to enjoy some well-earned refreshments.