Traveller Homes Now campaign launch

‘You know sometimes you have conferences and people get agitated but here they were totally zoned in, they loved that rather than all the talking and academic stuff.’  Bridget Kelly, Galway Traveller Movement

Conferences on international human rights issues tend to follow a format. Academics speak about international standards and the legal framework, and NGOs present a critique of state performance. Perhaps someone who is directly impacted by the issues discussed by the ‘experts’ gives a personal perspective. Far too often it is only a certain kind of ‘expert’ who is heard. 

The Galway Traveller Accommodation Inquiry, held in the Connacht Hotel, Galway on 20th November was not one of those conferences.

The experiences of the Traveller community in Galway were the cornerstone of the inquiry and provided a dominant and powerful narrative as the voices of Traveller women, speaking from their tables, were heard again and again throughout the day. Statistics such as the fact that Traveller accommodation targets have not been met in 18 years were shocking, but it was the stories that hit hardest. Details of brutal living conditions were given, such as worms and slugs coming out of water taps on sites. But also recounted were stories of resistance, of resilience and of joy in the Traveller way of life:

‘Enough is enough’

‘We know what it’s like to be outsiders in our own country’

‘Recognition of Traveller ethnicity has not made a blind bit of difference in our lives’

‘You’re afraid, humiliated, embarrassed’

‘We don’t complain much. We used to but we weren’t getting heard so we stopped’

‘I felt something at the protest that I never felt before. That I was fighting for something.’

‘I just love the lifestyle – it’s a lovely feeling to get up and open doors and windows and just be happy’

‘We remember the fear of the Guards but we also remember the strength of our parents’

‘They put you beside a dump because they think you are rubbish’

‘Having them held accountable. That’s the only time it will stop’.

It was compelling.

The Inquiry, hosted by Galway Traveller Movement (GTM) and the National Traveller Women’s Forum, saw the launch of the accommodation campaign ‘Traveller Homes Now!’ with a list of demands and a timetable for change that will be placed before Galway City and County Councils - the public bodies which have authority for providing Traveller accommodation. In 2016, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that the Irish government’s failures on Traveller accommodation amounted to a violation of Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter. In light of this, the demands emerging from the Traveller Homes Now! campaign were reasonable and modest, calling for:

  • the targets within the Traveller Accommodation Plan to be met;
  • Traveller specific accommodation to be built in Galway City and County as a matter of urgency;
  • and sanctions to be applied to Councils for under spend of Traveller specific funding.

The rights-based demands of the Traveller Homes Now! campaign resonate with the Accommodation Rights Charter launched by Travellers of North Cork in May 2017.

PPR has worked with GTM periodically since three members attended the first Tools for Action Summer School in Belfast in August 2011, and has delivered the Tools for Action training to groups in both 2014 and 2016. The Tools for Action training focuses on breaking down PPR’s approach, covering topics including; using human rights as practical tools;  gathering evidence and monitoring change; challenging decision-making processes and outcomes; building a campaign strategy; dealing with how power responds. In October 2016 PPR travelled to Galway to deliver the training to a wider group of people involved in GTM. This training and exposure to PPR’s human rights based approach influenced GTM’s strategy as Margaret O’Riada of GTM explains:

 ‘The whole framework of the inquiry is from the PPR model as it’s explicitly going after the rights. We in Galway Traveller Movement are very strong in our community work and rights based approaches but this is about going after the standards and then moving out of spaces that aren’t working for us like in the local authority. The whole notion of the inquiry was because we were in consultative spaces with LTACC (Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committees) that don’t work, and the whole model coming from of PPR is that, ‘ok, you then need to organise differently’’

The day featured contributions and support from the Cian Finn and Chris McInerney from the University of Limerick, Padraic Kenna from NUI Galway, Fr. Peter McVerry, and Ruth Gallagher from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission – who were invited to be ‘responders’ to the main narrative – that of the Traveller’s testimonies.

Bridget Kelly of Galway Traveller Movement identified one of the challenges to come in their campaign:

“The challenge is getting the main people into the room, like decision-makers. The CEOs should have been here today form City and County Council - they sent in social workers, they have a lot of influence but they are not the authority we want to see. And also the junior Minister - the people who make the change - they weren’t here today. They need to be in the room.”

The ‘Traveller Homes Now!’ campaign will develop human rights indicators for change and present them to Galway City and County Council in January 2018, and will monitor these on a quarterly basis, with lack of progress being communicated to the Minister of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for response and action to hold the Council to account.