Irish Travellers have been documented as being part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers have a long-shared history, traditions, language, culture, and customs.
The distinctive Traveller identity and culture, based on a nomadic tradition, sets Travellers apart from the sedentary population or ‘settled people’.
Accepting, resourcing, and celebrating Traveller identity, culture and heritage is a central element in any strategy to counter discrimination and the exclusion and marginalisation of Travellers.
Recognising Traveller ethnicity means recognising that Travellers experience racism and discrimination. It is only by fully recognising this problem that you can work towards a solution.
The dominant view of Travellers in Ireland has been that Travellers are some sort of deviant settled people. The solution to the Traveller ‘problem’ has been to try to turn Travellers back into settled people again. In other words, if Travellers are not a distinct community then they should be treated the same as the general population and assimilated into the general population.
But, in this way, their specific needs will not be met. They become invisible to policymakers and service providers and the community suffers.
Considering recent measures to acknowledge diversity, it is important to recognise the historical diversity that makes up Irishness.
The Traveller cultural tradition – including family, social customs, and traditions– has made and continues to make a hugely positive contribution to Irish society overall.
For example, Traveller contribution to Irish traditional music, particularly uileann piping, is widely recognised among musicians and academics.
Recognition of Traveller ethnicity has huge symbolic value to the Traveller community and increases Travellers’ self-esteem and confidence in the face of racism and discrimination. This, in turn, promotes mutual respect and tolerance in society.