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Government policy of denying Traveller identity extremely serious

15 October, 2003

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD, has reacted with disbelief and anger to the Minister for Justice's assertion that Travellers are not a distinct ethnic grouping in Ireland. The Minister's comments came in a reply to a parliamentary question by the Dublin South Central TD.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said "it is not within the gift of the Minister for Justice or indeed the Government to decide whether a group is ethnically different. Only those people themselves can exercise that right. Travellers organisations such as Pavee Point have made it quite clear that Travellers are a specific ethnic group within Ireland, with their own language, culture, customs and traditions. As such Travellers not only have the right to assert and celebrate their distinct ethnic identity, they also have the right to freedom from discrimination and protection under the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination - which specifically includes the grounds of descent and ethnic origin.

"That the Minister for Justice can so casually dismiss the claims and aspirations of a significant section of Irish society is the height of paternalism, but unfortunately not too surprising coming from the man whose Government has criminalised nomadism and who himself has declared war on a rights based society.

"But the net effect of this Government policy is to deny Traveller identity. This is extremely serious. I call on the Government to retract this policy immediately and make a public statement recognising Travellers as an ethnic minority with all attendant rights." ENDS

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