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Irish Travellers in the UK may face greater levels of discrimination post-Brexit

House of Lords member David Alton says the Irish Traveller community have “long faced significant prejudice in Britain”.

Image: The Traveller Movement via Facebook

THE IRISH TRAVELLER community in Britain has expressed concern about the impact Brexit will have on their rights.

A report this month authored by barrister Simon Cox and the Traveller Movement said the government in the UK has so far failed to guarantee the rights of Irish citizens post-Brexit.

It highlighted a number of areas that the organisation believes Irish people – and Travellers in particular – could be impacted, including immigration status, access to healthcare and tenancy rights.

“Irish Travellers are a distinct ethnic minority and while there is no accurate data as to the actual number, the Traveller Movement estimates around 100,000 are resident in the UK,” the report said.

A significant number of these will not be British citizens by descent.

The report focuses on a piece of legislation called the Ireland Act 1949 which should protect the rights of Irish citizens in Britain. However, it claims the British government and local authorities do not, in practice, recognise the act as conferring any rights to them.

“All Irish citizens have to depend on their status as EU citizens or specific British legal provisions which make no reference to the 1949 Act,” it notes.

“Many of the protections and rights currently enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK, such as the exemptions from prohibitions on employment of foreigners, exist only because they are EU citizens and not because they are Irish citizens.”

House of Lords member David Alton is quoted in the report as saying the Irish Traveller community has “long faced significant prejudice in Britain”.

“The Traveller Movement’s research – ‘Last acceptable form of racism?’ – recently found that service providers and healthcare providers routinely refuse access to Irish Travellers,” he said.

“A lack of legal and policy clarity in a post-Brexit UK would lead to those officials and private sector staff with prejudice to discriminate – consciously or unconsciously – against Irish Travellers who hold Irish citizenship.”

Alton said the issue that is most concerning is “the lack of clarity around the powers to deport Irish citizens; a power the Irish government has renounced for British citizens”.

Most concerning is the lack of clarity around the powers to deport Irish citizens; a power the Irish Government has renounced for British citizens.

Overcrowded accommodation 

A number of reports have found that landlords – as part of the Right to Rent scheme in the UK – are less likely to rent to potential tenants who do not hold a British passport, but who have the right to live in the UK.

The report gave a case study example to illustrate how this could impact on Irish Traveller families:

It is 2024. Siobhan and John are recently arrived Irish citizens working minimum wage, moving around the UK, living in short-term lets. They are Travellers. They know that UK guidance says Irish citizens who can prove they entered UK legally have the right to rent in the UK and they have proof of their most recent Ryanair flight.
But landlords often turn them away saying that their blank passports don’t meet the legal instructions landlords have from the Home Office.
Sometimes the landlords do this because they don’t want Traveller tenants or because they don’t like Irish people. Sometimes they do it because it’s easier to take other tenants with clear papers. Siobhan and John often have to stay in overcrowded accommodation, or even on the streets.

Yvonne MacNamara, chief executive of the Traveller Movement, said there are certain groups, such as Irish Travellers, who are much more vulnerable than others if laws are unclear and left to the interpretation of employers, landlords and officials.

“Unless the government acts to clarify and guarantee the rights of Irish citizens, it is not hard to imagine how Irish Travellers could be subject to greater levels of prejudice and discrimination than they already face,” she said.

The report recommended the introduction of a general law that Irish citizens be treated equally with British citizens or to include an exemption for Irish people to immigration control in primary legislation.

Read: Fear of return to violence if customs checkpoints brought back after Brexit>

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