The Traveller and Roma communities share a history of nomadism and similar lifestyles, and have a shared experience of social exclusion and racism.
Within the European context, Roma policy and integration strategies are now inclusive of Irish Travellers. Over recent years the Donegal Travellers’ Project has been exploring how best to develop work with the Roma community in Donegal.
While no empirical evidence exists, estimates of the Roma community indicate that there are between 3,000 and 5,000 Roma living in Ireland. In Donegal the initial work with the community has engaged directly with just over twenty families and exploratory research indicates that there are a minimum of forty families living in the county.
Both Traveller and Roma face many of the same challenges: limited access to accommodation, poor access to services, and poverty.
The Roma community however also faces distinct challenges, including language and migrant issues. DTP hope to work to build trust between the organisation and members of the Roma community and the wider community.
The core objective is to work with national stakeholders on the strategic needs assessment for the Roma community and to develop appropriate community and rights-based responses to the needs identified at a local level.
Donegal Travellers’ Project works to challenge racism and discrimination against the Roma community wherever it is encountered and also works to address discrimination at the institutional level.
The national Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 features a roadmap for Traveller and Roma inclusion in every aspect of Irish society. The strategy also includes positive commitments by national departments and agencies to participate in specific actions which support Traveller and Roma inclusion.
Hugh Friel, DTP accommodation and men’s health worker, participated in development of the strategy.
The national strategy details a total of 149 specific actions in areas including accommodation, antidiscrimination, cultural identity, education, employment, and health. The commitment by the Department of Justice and Equality to support and value Traveller culture, identity, and heritage was particularly welcomed by Traveller and Roma rights organisations, and commitments by the Department of Health and the HSE to improve Traveller and Roma health outcomes have also been welcomed.
Under the Department of Justice and Equality, Donegal Travellers’ Project has now employed a community development and advocacy worker to work full-time with the Roma community. Joleen Kuyper is working in the DTP Letterkenny offices from 9.30am to 5.30pm Mondays and Tuesdays; and from 9.30am to 1pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Joleen is available to support members of the Roma community on a broad range of issues, including but not limited to accommodation, health visits, and the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.