IRISH Travellers have taken a significant step towards being recognised as a distinct ethnic group in Ireland.
A draft report on the ethnicity of the Travelling community, drawn up by by Sinn Féin justice spokesman Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, is due to be approved by a justice committee of Dáil Éireann this month.
The move comes amidst claims that discrimination against Travellers remains ingrained in Irish society.
Martin Collins, a Traveller and co-director of the lobby group Pavee Point, told the Sunday Times: “If the Taoiseach stood up in the Dáil and recognised the ethnicity of Travellers, it would demonstrate that we belong here. My people are an integral part of this island and have been since the 5th century. Recognising our ethnicity would show we are valued and respected for who we are - something we don’t feel at the moment.”
Brigid Quilligan of the Irish Traveller Movement also told the justice committee that Travellers, ‘once a strong, proud people’, had been devalued within Irish society.
In 2011 an analysis of DNA from 40 Travellers was undertaken at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh.
The study provided evidence that Irish Travellers are a distinct Irish ethnic minority, who separated from the settled Irish community at least 1,000 years ago.
However, not all families of Irish Travellers date back to the same point in time; some families adopted Traveller customs centuries ago, while others did so more recently.
The Irish Government has been urged to recognise Travellers as a distinct ethnic group before the next UN review of the State’s human rights record.