The European Commission has made impressive efforts to secure the wellbeing of Roma and Travellers across the Member States. In 2011, it developed the ‘EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020’ to tackle the marginalisation and poor socio-economic conditions of the Roma (including Irish Travellers). Each Member State was required to draw up a national Roma integration strategy that set targets in education, employment, health and housing and that allocated sufficient funding to achieve them. The response to date by the Irish Government has been inadequate.
The European Commission has not been impressed. It assessed Ireland’s current strategy in 2013 and 2014 and found that Ireland only met four out of the 22 criteria required. The lack of a timetable of actions, targets, indicators and budget to secure effective implementation were highlighted. The Commission also stated that improved consultation with Roma and Travellers was needed. These criticisms reflected concerns Pavee Point had been raising since 2011.
Ireland is now seeking to respond to the challenge posed by the European Commission by developing a new and more ambitious National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy (NTRIS). The Department of Justice and Equality (DJE) has established a national steering group with representatives of Traveller organisations and Roma community members and a range of government departments – chaired by the Minister of State. It launched a public consultation process to develop the new NTRIS. This was welcomed by Traveller organisations and Roma.
The preparation of NTRIS started in 2015 and involves three phases. Phase one was an initial round of consultations to identify the priority themes to be addressed in the NTRIS. The second phase was to identify and agree specific objectives under each of the themes identified. The third phase is to focus on identifying precise and measurable actions, as well as timescales for achievement of each of the objectives that emerged from Phase 2. On foot of this the NTRIS is to be considered by Government.
Pavee Point was commissioned, in late 2015, to compile a report of the priority themes identified through a public consultation process. Four regional consultations on NTRIS objectives were organised. These took place in February 2016 in Dublin, Sligo, Limerick and Athlone. A report of the feedback from the consultation process was given to the Department in April 2016 and Pavee Point’s work for DJE came to an end in May 2016.
The NTRIS was planned to be available by early 2016. Unfortunately there has been slippage in the timescale anticipated. This is largely due to change in and shortage of personnel in DJE. There was a significant time lag in replacing the officer who was driving this work. The second round of consultations on the NTRIS, which were due to take place in May 2016, had to be postponed. These consultations were to discuss what actions should be included in the NTRIS under each of the objectives identified.
Pavee Point, ITM, NTWF and Mincéir Whiden had written to DJE urging them to postpone this second round of consultations. They were concerned that local Traveller organisations would not have sufficient time to review the draft actions due to be discussed. The draft actions had not yet been circulated to Traveller organisations a week before these consultations were to begin. Traveller organisations needed time to discuss these and prepare their members to attend the consultations. It was effectively impossible for groups to prepare in advance and this would have resulted in a tokenistic consultation process.
They were also concerned that no discussion had taken place at steering group level about the information gathered from the first round of consultations and how this would be incorporated into the NTRIS. There had to be clarity on this if Traveller organisations were to have confidence in the consultation process. The second round of consultations is now scheduled to take place at the end of September, and a NTRIS steering group meeting has been scheduled for mid-September.
The NTRIS is an important development. It is important that its preparation is completed quickly and with adequate participation. It is equally important that the NTRIS is not posed as a panacea for all Traveller and Roma policy and programme development. To-date it is the answer of choice in response to the many challenging questions being posed to Ireland by a range of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms. Progress on equality and human rights for Traveller and Roma has been really slow. Most important of all must be to ensure that when agreed the NTRIS is implemented and adequate structures and processes are created to drive its implementation. We have had good plans before that have fallen at this key final hurdle.
Ronnie Fay is Co-Director of Pavee Point