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Watch: Labour minister's blistering criticism of attitudes towards Travellers

The Dáil is to vote on a Sinn Féin motion calling for Traveller ethnicity tonight.

THE GOVERNMENT IS tonight expected to reject a Sinn Féin motion calling on the state to recognise Traveller ethnicity.

But Minister of State for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin last night commended the proposal, saying efforts to secure Traveller rights have unfairly been hindered by concerns about public opinion.

“I don’t accept the premise that we should deal in the terms of popular opinion when advocating for the rights of minorities,” he said in the Dáil.

I don’t believe we should deal in ‘focus group’ equality… The very fact that advocating for the rights of a minority is unpopular is the very reason we should drive forward to ensure that equality is realised.

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In Ireland, the Labour minister added, “you can pretty much say in public discourse, in polite conversation or write in a newspaper anything you want to say about the Travelling community and get away with it”.

There is no more reviled community in our history, from the settled perspective. Is it any wonder they feel isolated and disconnected?

Tonight’s private members’ motion, proposed by Sinn Féin justice spokesperson Pádraig MacLochlainn, calls on Taoiseach Enda Kenny to implement traveller ethnicity legislation before the end of the curent Dáil term.

The coalition is expected to put down a countermotion saying the matter will instead be considered in an upcoming policy document.

Protest

Meanwhile, Traveller representative groups have vowed to step up action against discrimination, after walking out of a government conference on accommodation yesterday.

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Bridget Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) said in a keynote speech at the event that activists had been stonewalled by politicians who “represent a racist agenda”.

Quillagan told RTÉ’s Today Seán O’Rourke this morning that the walk-out had been planned following feedback from Travellers frustrated with the lack of protest.

Following last month’s Carrickmines fire, she said members of her own community had asked of her: “Why are national Traveller groups not out protesting on the streets at what’s happened to us?

Our children are falling out of school; we can’t get accommodation, we’re homeless for the first time that we can remember; we’re discriminated everywhere we go; politicians can say what they like about us. What are ye doing?

Read: Carrickmines survivors are now living in this car park

Read: Actor Michael Collins on Traveller life in Ireland and his latest role

About the author:

Catherine Healy

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