Source : Maxwell Photography

TDs and Senators recommend public sector hiring targets to tackle Traveller unemployment

Recommendations of an Oireachtas report also include mandatory anti-racism training and temporary repeal of trespass legislation.

By Maria Delaney

SPECIFIC HIRING TARGETS for recruitment of Travellers to the public sector and Civil Service bodies was one of the 22 recommendations to tackle unemployment in a key report issued today. 

The 2016 Census found that 80% of Travellers in the labour force were unemployed with the report stating factors that contribute to this include discrimination and a reluctance to employ Travellers as well as a lack of educational attainment.

The final report of the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community was launched today to tackle the “serious inequalities faced by Travellers” with 84 recommendations across health, education, housing and employment. 

At the launch, chairperson Senator Eileen Flynn said that “this report cannot be allowed to gather dust on a shelf”. 

Over the years there have been numerous reports and studies which have highlighted the extreme difficulties and challenges faced by the Traveller community. I’m afraid that those reports have not been successful in improving Travellers lives.

Flynn emphasised the importance of the implementation of these recommendations which she said have the potential to “change the lives of our community for the better”. She added that “parliamentary oversight of implementation is critically important”.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, Leas Chathaoirleach of the Committee said the cross-party nature of this report gives this document “particular importance and status”. He added that one of the key issues was accommodation which he said impacts employment, education and health.

Committee finds health and safety issues on sites

As part of their preparation of the report, members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee travelled to seven Traveller accommodation sites which Flynn said was “an education experience for the Committee members”.

“We visited one halting site, where they told us they were waiting 23 years on promises but no action,” said Ó Cuív. 

This included Spring Lane in Cork - the halting site that was the subject of the damning Children’s Ombudsman report on overcrowded and unsafe conditions. Traveller advocacy groups recently told Noteworthy  that nothing substantial has been done to upgrade the site.

  • Watch our recent discussion with key Traveller advocates on the cycle of disadvantage for Traveller children here>>

Labre Park Traveller housing scheme in Ballyfermot was one of two sites visited in Dublin. Noteworthy recently reported that a hepatitis A outbreak on this site left five Traveller children hospitalised last year. The HSE’s outbreak report found the sanitation infrastructure at the site “remains inadequate, while the planned upgrade of the residential site is outstanding”. 

The members also visited four sites in Galway, including the Carrowbrowne Transient Site, where Traveller advocates reported that children were left “for 18 months without heat and water throughout the height of the pandemic”. 

The Joint Oireachtas Committee “noted several potential health and safety issues on several of the sites, including issues around fire safety, such as a lack of fire hoses on one site”. They also found that “their experience on site matched the conditions reported by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office No End in Site report”.

Overcrowding was an issue on every site visited, with one family of eight living in a single bedroom house. The Committee was also struck with an apparent lack of forward planning in Traveller accommodation to take into account growing families and new family unit creation.

Of these visits, the Committee “was struck by the pride and passion displayed by the residents they met in maintaining and caring for their homes” and concluded that “the problems regarding site upkeep lie not with the residents of the sites but with the local authorities charged with maintaining them”.

Urgent audit and repeal of trespass legislation

One of the main recommendations on accommodation in the report is an urgent audit of living conditions in all Traveller specific and halting sites and immediate action to address deficiencies.   

Between 2008 and 2018, just two thirds (€110.6 million) of the €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation was drawn down. Our recent TOUGH START investigation also found that funding red tape has led to low output of Traveller-specific accommodation. 

To address funding issues, the report recommends that where local authorities are failing to implement their Traveller-specific accommodation funding, decision-making should be transferred to An Bord Pleanála and money not drawn down should be made available to Traveller groups and resident associations. 

“Nomadism is a deeply significant aspect of Traveller culture,” according to the report, yet “there are currently no transient sites and no plans for the same in any of the 31 local authority areas”.

Additionally, the implementation of trespass legislation has had a severe impact on members of the Traveller community who want to engage in nomadism. 

On this, the Committee recommended the establishment of a network of transient sites across the country and the repeal of trespass legislation, in particular in relation to public land, until this network of transient sites is in place. 

Action plans needed as a matter of urgency

There were a number of common recommendations across each of the sectors covered.

The development and implementation of key action plans and strategies were among these, including “as a matter of urgency” the long-awaited National Traveller Health Action Plan and National Traveller Education Strategy.

The Committee also called for a ring-fenced budget within the HSE and the restoration of dedicated funding for Traveller Education that was cut during recession.

Mandatory cultural awareness and anti-racism training was recommended for all serving teachers, across all State services that engage with Travellers and for all staff working in employment activation and support.

Impact of racism and discrimination

Mental health was one of the key areas examined by the Committee who called on the implementation of the National Traveller Mental Health Strategy.

The Committee said there is a crisis in mental health in the Traveller community, with the report stating that “90% of Travellers agreed that mental health problems were common in their community, with suicide being the cause of 11% of Traveller deaths”.

The Joint Committee acknowledges that experiences of racism, exclusion and discrimination that members of the Traveller community face on a daily basis have a profound and deeply troubling impact on their mental health and is a contributory factor to the crisis in mental health among Travellers. 

Another key recommendation was the implementation and roll-out of ethnic equality monitoring across all health administrative systems. Our recent investigation found that ethnicity identifiers are not being recorded as part of numerous HSE reports, health statistics and, most recently, the Covid vaccine rollout.

An immediate report prepared in relation to the effects of the pandemic on the Traveller community was also requested by the Committee. 

Reduced timetables – a growing trend 

Education was also addressed with the report outlining the stark statistics facing the community, such as 18% of Traveller children having no formal education compared to 1.4% of the general population and 62% of Travellers experiencing discrimination at school.

The “abuse” of reduced school days was one of the main focuses of our recent investigation and something that numerous Traveller advocates highlighted. We found that many Traveller children are routinely put on ‘reduced hours’ at school – with at least one student on just 40 minutes a day.

  • Listen to The Explainer x Noteworthy discuss the conditions faced by Traveller children in the country’s education system here>>

Several witnesses flagged to the Committee “a growing trend in recent years” of placing Traveller students at both primary level and post-primary level on reduced hours, “often without giving notice to their parents or receiving their consent”. 

The Committee heard that the use of reduced school days can severely impact on a child’s educational opportunities and outcomes. 

To address this, they recommended – as per new guidelines recently issued by the Department of Education – that their use should be strictly limited to exceptional circumstances and monitored to ensure that they are being applied in the correct fashion. 

In addition, they called on the Department of Education to seek a written rationale from schools where patterns of overuse of reduced timetables emerge.

Overall, the Committee stated it “was struck by the resilience of the Traveller community in the face of decades of deprivation, poverty and discrimination” and believed “that the State has a duty to give people every opportunity to reach their full potential in every area of their lives”.

Push for action and accountability

Following this report, the Joint Committee has been officially dissolved but members who spoke at the launch hoped that a new committee would be set up to oversee the implementation of the report’s recommendations and deal with other issues impacting Travellers that the Committee did not get to during its term. 

Among the members calling for a new committee was Ó Cuív. On the report, he said that “it is action on reports that changes things”.

We need to get action on this report by government grasping this and literally pushing aside anybody who is standing in the way of justice for the Traveller community.

Bernard Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement welcomed the report at the launch and called on political leaders, including the Taoiseach and Tánaiste, to speak out about actions that they can do which he said “would give confidence to the community”.

Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women’s Forum said “there’s nothing new” in the report, with Travellers subjected to many of the issues “for many decades with a lack of action”. She added that “consideration seriously needs to be given to implementation, monitoring and accountability”.   

This article is a follow-up to our TOUGH START investigation which was done in collaboration with The Journal. It was funded by you, our readers, with support from The Journal as well as the Noteworthy general fund to cover additional costs. 

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