An event to mark the sixth anniversary of the legal recognition by the State of Traveller ethnicity was held in Blackhall Place this week (28 February).
The Law School’s Diversity and Inclusion Society hosted speakers Maria Joyce (National Traveller Women's Forum), solicitor David Joyce, and Patrick Reilly (Pavee Point).
Maria Joyce leads the forum mission to empower Traveller women to achieve full equality, and have their identity celebrated.
At the seminar, Joyce urged the trainee solicitors to remember that it could be difficult for Travellers to access legal advice or engage with legal services.
“With the over-representation of Travellers in prison, and with the stark inequalities, racism and discrimination experienced in the wider criminal justice system, Travellers even trying to get a solicitor can be a task in itself, to access justice,” she said.
That the Law Society was sending out young solicitors with an open mind and a willingness to engage with Travellers who came across their path was really important, Maria Joyce said.
“So many Travellers experience rejection at that level,” she added.
The campaign for recognition of Traveller ethnicity was the result of many decades campaigning by activists, the seminar heard.
Solicitor and social-justice and human-rights advocate David Joyce said that the campaign rallied other stakeholders outside of the State, such as the UN, to underpin the message about Traveller ethnicity and its related way of life.
A number of joint Oireachtas committees looked at the issues and wrote reports on the matter.
The impact of recognition had been considerable in terms of the self-esteem of young Travellers, the seminar heard.
“It was a really important symbolic announcement,” Maria Joyce said.
Patrick Reilly of Pavee Point said it was important that Travellers were not seen as failed settled people, and to avoid using “problem” language about Travellers.
The recognition of ethnicity was not a magic wand, Reilly said, and the issues they faced, such as with mental health, did not go away with the announcement.
“Travellers’ lives are stressful,” he said, pointing to poor accommodation and access to education and employment.