Traveller and Roma civil society: Ireland can do better at assessing integration progress

January 28, 2020

The second round of  Roma Civil Monitor (RCM) reports on Ireland relates that developments in policy to advance the human rights of Travellers and Roma since 2017 are seen as positive by civil society. Unfortunately, implementation remains weak. The employment gap between members of these minorities and the rest of society demonstrates that progress has yet to be made in that area. Moreover, civil society observes that there is a homelessness crisis of an unprecedented nature underway in the country and that Travellers are significantly over-represented in the homeless population. In addition, overcrowding and inadequate accommodation are key issues for both the Traveller and Roma communities. Traveller and Roma experience disproportionately poor health outcomes compared to the majority population, as well as high levels of discrimination in attempting to access key goods and services. Finally, a long-entrenched gap in educational outcomes persists between Traveller children and their counterparts in the majority population.

The RCM reports are part of a project that began in 2017 and is funded by the European Commission for the purpose of strengthening the involvement of Roma civil society in the monitoring of integration strategies across the EU. The added value of civil society monitoring is that the coalitions of NGOs participating work directly with Roma and Traveller communities and represent independent voices.

Roma Network Meeting, July 2019, Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre (PHOTO: Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre). 

“The Roma Civil Monitor process is crucial in gathering, collating and verifying information in relation to progress on key issues impacting on Roma and Travellers because of the direct links with the communities. It also offers opportunities to collaborate with other civil society organisations to raise awareness on these issues,” says Martin Collins, Co-Director of the Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre. 

There are approximately 35,000 Irish Travellers living in Ireland. The Roma minority, many of who are citizens of other EU Member States, is estimated to number between 4 000 and 5 000 people in Ireland. The National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS) currently lacks the necessary monitoring and evaluation framework, as can be seen from the state reports assessing implementation, and a more precise set of indicators needs to be developed for that purpose. Civil society held focus group consultations for the second RCM report with a range of Traveller organisations including the Eastern Regional Traveller Health Network, the National Traveller Health Network, Minceirs Whiden and with Roma participating in the development of the local NTRIS forums in a particular county. In addition, data was provided by other NGO and statutory experts across the relevant thematic areas.

In a National Roma Needs Assessment published in 2018, 40 per cent of the Roma surveyed in Ireland indicated that they have never been to school and expressed a desire to access adult education and training opportunities. In addition, Roma access to state-funded employment services in Ireland can be severely restricted at present due to the way in which EU Directive 2004/38 on freedom of movement and residency has been transposed into Irish law, especially with respect to the Habitual Residence Condition, which many Roma may not meet. The October 2018 NTRIS progress report describes many actions ostensibly underway to implement the strategy in this area, only one of which is described as “completed”, namely, that the Department of Social Protection has committed to “develop targeted initiatives to increase Traveller and Roma engagement with employment and training services” – but as of the time of writing that outcome had yet to be achieved, with the progress report noting that “in order to inform developments on this action, the Department has begun collating statistical information (to the extent that this is available) on current levels of participation by the Traveller and Roma communities in activation programmes”.

In the area of education, civil society groups express concern that despite the significant education inequality gap between the Traveller and the majority population, a long-awaited national Traveller Education Strategy is yet to be developed.

Civil society recommends that Irish mainstream national employment and training strategies, including the “Pathways to Work” strategy, need to include targeted measures to address the persistently high levels of unemployment in the Traveller and Roma communities and that the Department of Education and Skills must develop an Action Plan for Traveller and Roma Education in collaboration with Traveller and Roma organisations. They also recommend the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government identify what actions can be taken to address Roma housing and accommodation needs in the next revision of the NTRIS (with effect from 2019). Civil society recommends protecting Traveller-specific health infrastructure (Traveller Health Units, Traveller Primary Health Care Projects) and investing more resources into development of that infrastructure and a National Traveller Health Action Plan. Lastly, the Department of Education and Skills should fund independent Traveller organisations to support efforts to address educational inequalities and raise awareness of  cultural and educational needs of this group.