The Taoiseach has said Travellers can walk with their head held high after being formally recognised as a distinct ethnic group.
The public gallery of the Dáil was last night packed out and a large crowd from the Travelling community was outside the Dáil after making their way from across the country to be there for the announcement.
Formally announcing the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic group, Mr Kenny said it was “a historic day for our Travellers” and a “proud day for Ireland”.
There was applause and cheers from the gallery as Mr Kenny made the formal announcement and TDs stood to acknowledge the momentous occasion.
Before statements began, a number of TDs asked that the Dáil be suspended for short time to allow more Travellers be accommodated within Leinster Hosue.
Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Fearghail said issues with personnel prohibited admission of more of the public. Responding, Bríd Smith pleaded: “Bend the rules for people who have had the rules broken on them for decades.”
She added that Travellers had “fought for 30 years for this day” and as many as possible should be allowed in to witness it.
Mr Kenny said “no one should have to hide their ethnicity or culture”.
He gave the example of Robbie a 17-year-old young man and “The apple of his mother’s eye”. Despite having the “world at his feet”, Mr Kenny said “he walks with his head down”.
“His mother, his family, his Traveller community want Robbie to feel the same sense of hope and opportunity as every other young person in this country. So do I. So does this House of public representatives,” he said.
He said the recognition would go “some way” to ensuring Robbie and his entire family “have a better future with less negativity, exclusion and marginalization”.
As he finished, one visitor in the gallery called on him to apologise to Travellers on behalf of the Irish State.
Fianna Fáil TD Micheál Martin said a “much more positive story” relating to Travellers could be created into the future and this was the beginning of that.
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams described it as “a momentous step forward for equality” which he said Travellers had waited a lonhg time for. Highlighting their “distinct culture” Mr Adams said Travellers have had a significant influence on Irish traditional music”.
This was also echoed by Eamon Ryan of the Green Party who thanked members of the Travelling community “for your ethnicity, for making Ireland a better place”.
But he said the formal recognition of Traveller ethnicity is “not a magic wand” that will address the challenges and discrimination faced by the Travelling community on its own, “but it is a major step in the right direction”.
Welcome the announcement Pavee Point said it highlighted Travellers’ rich distinct history and culture and sends out a message of respect and inclusion.
Martin Collins, Pavee Point director, said: “It also lays to rest notions that Travellers are a primitive, dysfunctional, failed settled people who originated from the famine and who just need to be normalised and civilized by the State.”
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