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President Higgins says 'exclusion' of Travellers is based on 'unrepublican populist sentiments'

The President was speaking on International Traveller and Roma Day.

Source: Áras an Uachtaráin/YouTube

PRESIDENT MICHAEL D Higgins has marked International Traveller and Roma Day by celebrating the culture of the Travelling community and hitting out at the discrimination it faces.  

In a video message, President Higgins takes issues with policies at a national and local level that he says has failed to address “with compassion and understanding, the needs of the Travelling community”.

“Far too many challenges remain for Travellers and Roma. The bitter fruits of a failure of State policy are manifold, where it existed,” he says. 

Submission to narrow, exclusionary, property-based, and most unrepublican populist sentiments, in far too many Local Authorities, stand as indictments on Irish society past and present. 

President Higgins said the failures by the State to provide for the needs of Travellers has been noted internationally

He cites poorer levels of education in the community, with just 14% of Traveller women completing secondary education and 60% of Traveller men not progressing beyond primary education. 

“Any general population, with a concept of citizenship and justice, should be concerned at the significant proportion of their fellow citizens from special groups that are being regularly excluded, generation after generation,” President Higgins says. 

The President says that “not all suffered Covid-19 equally” and that “poor people have suffered disproportionally”. 

“Among those poor, Roma and Travellers have been even further impacted,” he adds. 

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President Higgins says that the 2017 recognition of Traveller ethnicity was something that “we had been working for so long to achieve”.

“It acknowledges the discrimination that has been experienced by Travellers by members of a society willing to view them as a group living on the margins of the settled community, rather than a distinct ethnic group that has existed in Ireland since long before the years of the Great Irish Famine,” he says.

“So today, as we celebrate the unique culture of the Traveller and Roma communities, and the role that culture has played in the shared memory of a nation, we remind ourselves especially of the vital role that Travellers have traditionally played, and continue to play, in our society and of the positive contribution their culture has made over centuries to Irish society – in music, song, crafts, and all areas of culture.” 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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