We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Siobhan Cummiskey, managing solicitor of the Irish Traveller Movement Independent Law Centre. You can find out more about Siobhan on the Guest Contributors page.
Travellers have once again been both literally and figuratively sidelined by the Irish government upon being consigned to the Appendix of Ireland’s State Report to CERD (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination) in their combined 3rd and 4th report to the CERD Committee submitted in December 2009. The consignment of Travellers to a mere Appendix of a state report on racism is a most overt method of affirming the policy-endorsed position that Travellers are social dropouts, failed settled people and an economically deprived social group, as opposed to an ethnic minority.
The Irish government reiterated its tired mantra on the recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority in their 2009 state report:
“The exact basis for this claim is unclear. The Irish Government’s view is that Travellers do not constitute a distinct group from the population as a whole in terms of race, colour, descent or ethnic origin.”1
Our neighbour, the jurisdiction of England and Wales, has recognized Irish Travellers as an ethnic minority through the courts2 and Northern Ireland expressly includes Irish Travellers in their equality legislation under the definition of an ethnic minority3. Our own Equality Acts 2000-2004 fail to include Travellers as an ethnic minority and instead list them as a separate group to whom protection will be provided in that particular legal instrument. The Irish government maintains in their 2009 report to CERD that equality legislation that fails to define Travellers as an ethnic minority but instead singles them out as a separate group worthy of protection, “does not provide a lesser level of protection to Travellers compared to that afforded to members of ethnic minorities. On the contrary, the specific identification of Travellers in equality legislation guarantees that they are explicitly protected.”
The Irish cabinet reshuffle (see here, here, here and here) has resulted in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform , being divested of issues relating to equality, disability, integration and human rights. These important areas will be subsumed into the new Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs. The comments below are some initial reactions to this news.
Justice, Equality and Human Rights-Why?
I do not believe in making structural changes for their own sake. Too often, changes in structures can be pursued to disguise a lack of clear priorities or the determination to implement them. This Government has a clear agenda which I am determined will be driven forward with energy and commitment. There is no time to be wasted on extensive restructuring at the expense of action to implement our policies.
An Taoiseach Brian Cowen T.D. 23 March 2010
From 1992 until 1997, there was Minister for Equality and Law Reform, however post the 1997 general election, this was subsumed into the Department of Justice (to become the Dept. of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).This was a time of enormous economic growth within the Republic of Ireland and a number of months before the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The thrust of today’s speech by An Taoiseach’s recognised the need for a re-invigorated economy based on job creation and innovation. For reasons highlighted by the statement of An Taoiseach above, structural changes were made to a number of departments.
The Equality and Rights Alliance has produced a document which summarises the proceedings of their recent ‘Fairer Ireland’ conference.
Within the document are links to presenters’ slides and to youtube videos of their speeches. Part 1 of Colm O Cinneide’s speech, for instance – which makes some reference to the Equality Authority’s role in the Portmarnock decision – is here and part 1 of Karen Chouan’s (Equanomics) speech is here.
The National Advisory Committee on Drugs has published a fascinating report entitled Drug Use, Sex Work and the Risk Environment in Dublin, available here. In particular, the report makes a number of interesting findings about drug users’ reasons for working in the sex industry:
- All the men and women interviewed were dependent heroin users prior to engaging in sex work; a significant minority were minors at the time.
- There were a variety of entry routes into sex work; the dominant route being through peer or friendship networks. This often happened when the person had financial problems and their friend/acquaintance paved the way for them to become involved in sex work. For a significant minority of participants this introduction happened while homeless and/or staying in emergency accommodation.
- For most of the participants the primary rationale for engaging in sex work was economic; to ‘make ends meet’ and/or ‘for the sake of me habit’. Sex work provided a source of income and hence financial independence. Moreover, it was often considered less risky than alternative sources of income, such as drug-dealing and shop-lifting.
- The interface between participants’ drug use and their sex work was complex. The men and women interviewed needed a continual source of funds to maintain their (often multiple) drug dependency. For most, sex work proved very lucrative in this regard. However, the increased income obtained from sex work invariably contributed to an escalation in drug use.
Wednesday’s ‘Today With Pat Kenny’ featured an exchange based on the report between a representative of the Sex Workers Alliance of Ireland, which advocates ‘a move away from portraying sex workers as victims and towards a realisation that many people choose to work in the sex industry‘ and a spokesperson for the Christian NGO Ruhama. The podcast is available here.
Budget 2010 was the most discussed, debated, analysed and awaited Budget in the country’s history. Never before has a Budget generated so much anticipation, concern – even fear – across all sectors of society. At home and abroad Budget 2010 was seen as the Government’s chance to show that it was capable of leading the country out of recession; and could demonstrate to international partners that Ireland can take steps to reverse its misfortunes and emerge strong. The McCarthy Report on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure (‘An Bord Snip Nua’ report) and the Commission on Taxation Report, both published in summer 2009, advised Government on how to achieve an overall budgetary adjustment of €4 billion. At Cabinet, it was agreed that this year the focus would be on cuts, not taxation.
In total, measures announced in Budget 2010 amounted to €4 billion in savings, made up of over €1 billion from the public sector pay bill, €760 million from social welfare, €980 million from day-to-day spending programmes, and €960 million from investment projects. With these reductions, the Government aims to stabilise the national deficit in a fair way, safeguard those worst hit by the recession, and stimulate the crucial sectors of the economy to sustain and create jobs.