Roma in Ireland
Our work with Roma people in Cork
In mid-2011, we were invited to participate in a Roma Research Project spearheaded by the Cork City Partnership. Our role was to provide information to the steering group regarding the legal rights of Roma residents of Cork, that is to say, information regarding access to work permits, social protection, healthcare etc. The need to provide a specific information and advocacy service for Roma people directly emerged because of the specific and multiple needs of this vulnerable group.
The efficacy of our work was demonstrated in February 2012 when the state reversed its policy on access to employment in the state for Romanian and Bulgarian national parents of Irish children. Read about the legal challenge which led to this change in policy here.
In 2011-2012, our legal information and advocacy service assisted 33 Roma people, all of whom are nationals of Romania. Because Ireland has opted not to allow European citizens from Romania or Bulgaria to access the labour market in Ireland, most of the Roma people who live in Cork do not have free access to the labour market. The principle issues that we dealt with, therefore, were accessing the labour market (mostly through work permits) and social protection. Our work in this area resulted in, for the first time to our knowledge in the city, Roma people accessing information and assistance, and succeeding, in some exceptional cases, in accessing employment and social protection in the state.
Our Legal Service continues to assist Roma people in Cork, and we have commenced the process of examining the barriers to social and economic participation that repeatedly arise for our Roma service-users so that we can begin to work with policy makers in Ireland in order to address the systemic issues facing Roma people who have made their homes in Ireland.
A report on the structural discrimination the Roma community experiences in Cork will be launched in May 2013. The report, titled ‘In from the Margins – Roma in Ireland: Addressing the Structural Discrimination of the Roma Community in Ireland’ is based on two years of clinic work as well as focus groups and interviews with members of the Roma community. For more information about the launch, click here.
Roma people in Europe and Ireland – history and policy
Within EU institutions, the term “Roma” is used as an umbrella term to include groups of people who share similar cultural characteristics including Roma, Sinti, Travellers, Ashkali, Manush, Jenische, Kalderesh and Kale (the European Commission provides more information). While the “Roma” represent Europe’s largest minority group, members of this group do not represent an homogenous community and the communities associated with this term (such as Irish Travellers) do not always identify themselves as “Roma”. On the other hand, as noted by the European Roma Information Office (ERIO, an independent Roma advocacy organisation), these communities share an historic and contemporary tradition of nomadism as well as linked histories and experiences of racism, discrimination and socio-economic exclusion.
In recognition of the huge gaps that continue to exist between Roma communities and majority populations in Europe today, The EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies was adopted by 27 EU countries on 5 April 2011. With the adoption of this framework,the European Commission called on the EU Member States to develop national Roma integration strategies focusing on the development of targeted integration goals in relation to four key areas: education, health, employment and access to decent housing and other essential services (eg. water and electricity).
In their national integration strategies (which were to be submitted to the European Commission by the end of 2011), EU Member States are expected to specify how they intend to contribute to the achievement of these goals. In order to facilitate a regular review of progress, the European Commission will assess each strategy on an annual basis and report back to the Council and the European Parliament.
The adoption of the EU Framework marks an unprecedented political commitment that has been welcomed by European organisations working to promote the socio-economic inclusion of Roma communities. Organisations such as the European Roma Policy Coalition (ERPC) have stressed, however, that there is an urgent need for tangible results in combatting racism and xenophobia and supporting the full integration and empowerment of Roma communities.
We strongly agree that the Member States should develop explicit targets in close adherence to The Ten Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion and in dialogue with Roma and pro-Roma civil society. The importance of developing a solid coordination and monitoring mechanism has also been stressed by organisations including the The European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Ireland’s National Roma Integration Strategy was provided to the European Commission in January 2012; you can read it and the other national strategies on the Commission’s website here. The strategy was prepared with little or no consultation with Rome people or Roma advocacy groups in Ireland.
We are concerned that Ireland has not, in practice, initiated any actions to encourage the integration of Roma people who live in Ireland, or indeed to combat discrimination against Roma people in Ireland. The state’s National Roma Integration Strategy opens by referring to the European Commission’s definition of “Roma” as including “Travellers.” It goes on to recite the policy measures that apply in respect of Travellers. It does not deal with the fact that those policy measures, for the most part, are not available to Roma people who live in Ireland, primarily because most of Ireland’s Roma are citizens of Romania and, as such, they are generally excluded from the labour market in Ireland.
It is our intention to continue to provide information and assistance to Roma people through our clinics, to monitor the state’s responses to European policy measures in respect of Roma people, and to communicate with the Commission with regard to the circumstances of Ireland’s Roma residents.