Social inclusion the focus of Travellers' Week
The 2007 Traveller Focus Week was launched this week by the Irish Travellers Movement (ITM) under the theme ‘Inclusion'. There are several objectives to the week including encouraging travellers to participate more in policy development and public life, to promote an understanding of Travellers position in Irish society. The organisers also hope that the week will highlight the contribution Travellers bring to Irish Society.
There will be events throughout the week across the country including a photographic exhibition in New Ross entitled ‘Our Town, Our History', workshops and seminars.
The Focus Week is now in its third year. The week was originally part of the Citizens Traveller Campaign. When that campaign which was funded by the Government came to a close the travelling community requested that the Focus Week be allowed to continue.
This year the event is jointly organised by the Irish Travellers movement and An Munia Tobar (‘The Good Road') from Northern Ireland making it for the first time an all-Ireland event. The organisers hope that the events will create opportunities for dialogue with service providers and the wider settled community.
The Irish Traveller Movement has called for a National Traveller Accommodation Agency to be established. Speaking at a Focus week event, director of the Irish Travellers Movenment, Damien Peelo, said that legislation (the Housing Act, 1998) has provided a framework for the provision of accommodation that respects the nomadic lifestyle of travellers. However, Peelo said the challenge lay in implementing the legislation in practice.
“A solution would be the provision of a National Traveller Accommodation Agency which could progress the issue of nomadic provision. This is in keeping with the 1995 Task Force report recommendation, which stated that such an agency would act as the proper vehicle to secure the delivery of Traveller accommodation.”
“This agency would have responsibility to develop, construct and manage a network for transient accommodation and would be complimentary to the work of the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (NTACC). We are interested in assessing with government and local authorities over the coming months if a national driver of this sort is a viable course of action.”
The ITM is recommending that traditional camping areas are reopened, that anything blocking the use of such sites be removed such as boulders and barriers and that the Housing (Miscellanenous Provisions) Act 2002, which criminalises trespass on public land, should be repealed.
Travellers account for 22,400 of Irish Citizens. Statistically in the travelling community men are expected to live ten years less than their settled counterparts and traveller women twelve years less than their settled peers. The infant mortality rate amongst Travellers is nearly three times that of the national population. Seventy-three per cent of Traveller men are unemployed compared to a 5 per cent national average.
Traveller Focus Week runs until Friday 7 December.