Donegal Travellers’ Project, founded in 1996, has been an important part of the wider struggle for Travellers’ rights, both through its work locally and in solidarity with others at regional and national levels.
DTP is one of the longest established and locally based community development organization working for and with the Irish Traveller community. The local Traveller population fluctuates between 250 and 350 families.
The establishment of DTP represented a marked and welcome change in the approach to Travellers’ concerns by involving members of the Traveller community in discussions and decisions related to the issues they faced. Prior to that, committees working in Letterkenny on Traveller issues from the early 1980s had not viewed meaningful participation of Travellers as an essential part of their work, which was conducted using more of a charitable model.
All that would change with the coming of Donegal Travellers’ Project, a collaboration between members of the Traveller community, members of the settled community, and the local social inclusion manager of the HSE, with support from the IFI Communities in Action Programme.
The ultimate aim of Donegal Travellers’ Project is to achieve equality and recognition for Travellers as a uniquely marginalised minority ethnic group. The Irish State’s recognition in 2017 of Travellers as a distinct ethnic group within the Irish nation is central to equality of status for the Traveller community, providing the basis for new relationships of respect, inclusion and solidarity between the Traveller community, the settled community, and other ethnic minority communities.
At the core of DTP are the five principles of community development: collectivity; community empowerment; social justice and sustainable development; human rights, equality and anti-discrimination; and participation. Those principles underscore every initiative the project undertakes.
In recent years, DTP has broadened its reach to work with the Roma community and to work in collaboration with the Donegal Intercultural Platform and the communities the platform supports.
Through active engagement with the Traveller and Roma communities, DTP works with individuals and families on day-to-day issues, as well as providing courses, training, health programmes and other initiatives for men, women, children, and families. The work of DTP not only addresses pressing needs and advocates for marginalised communities, but also builds capacity for the members of their communities to become advocates for their communities in their own right.
The DTP Primary Health Care Project is an example of the success of DTP. A core initiative of the Donegal Travellers’ Project, the Primary Health Care Project is now staffed by members of the Traveller community, who as community health workers are out among the community on a daily basis.
DTP works throughout the county, with Traveller families who are nomadic on a cross-border basis and also those living in rural areas close the county border. The work is wide-ranging and includes community development, health, early years and adult education, youth work, information and advocacy, accommodation, and anti-racism work and intercultural training.
Donegal Travellers’ Project also maintains a very strong policy and representational role, ensuring that issues relevant to members of the Traveller and Roma communities in rural and border areas are included in wider, regional and national discussions.
Through its advocacy work, active engagement, and services, Donegal Travellers’ Project continues to move forward in the struggle for human rights and equality for Traveller, Roma and marginalised communities.