Europe

Irish Travellers granted formal recognition as ethnic minority

There was a standing ovation as Enda Kenny made the announcement in parliament Image copyright Houses of the Oireachtas
Image caption There was a standing ovation as Enda Kenny made the announcement in parliament

The formal recognition of Irish Travellers as an indigenous ethnic minority by the Republic of Ireland has been hailed as a "historic" day.

Members cheered and applauded in the Dáil (Irish parliament) on Wednesday as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny made the announcement.

There was a standing ovation as he gave status to the "distinct ethnic group".

He said the statement of recognition would go some way to ensuring they have a "better future with less negativity".

'Momentous'

The Dáil was told that a "large and unprecedented" crowd had gathered outside the building to witness the moment.

Irish President Michael D Higgins welcomed the move, describing it as "a momentous decision, formally recognising Travellers' place in Irish society".

He congratulated Travellers' organisations on their campaign.

"I have no doubt that today's clarification will be of assistance in interpreting legislation in relation to Travellers' rights, and ensuring respect for Travellers' distinct identity within the fabric of Irish society," the president added.

'People within our people'

It is thought there are about 30,000 people living in the Republic of Ireland who are members of the Travelling community, representing 0.6% of the total population.

Mr Kenny said the Traveller community had "for many years campaigned to have their unique heritage, culture and identify formally recognised by the Irish State".

"Our Traveller community is an integral part of our society for over a millennium, with their own distinct identity - a people within our people," he added.

He said the government recognised "the inequalities and the discrimination the Traveller community faces and has faced" and added that they have "a range of special programmes and interventions to help deal with this".

Following the standing ovation, Mr Kenny described state recognition as a "historic day for Travellers and a proud day - a day of maturity - for Ireland".

'Pride and dignity'

A former director of the Irish Traveller Movement, Brigid Quilligan, told Irish broadcaster RTÉ that her community was overjoyed by the move.

She said that currently, the history, language and culture of Travellers was not valued and they were viewed as a failed set of people in the Republic of Ireland.

Ms Quilligan added that State recognition would help to change those perspectives.

The National Youth Council of Ireland (NYCI) said recognition as an ethnic group was "critical, especially for young Travellers, so that they can be proud of their identity and heritage".

Anne Walsh of the NYCI said: "This is a momentous day that promotes pride and dignity for a group that have, for far too long, often been left out of conversations about belonging, identity and integration held with other minority ethnic groups living in Ireland."

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