On 27 June, conservative rivals Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael formed a so-called ‘historic’ government with the Green Party (GP). But meaningful history was made when new taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Micheál Martin appointed the first Traveller woman ever to the Seanad (Irish senate). This is Ireland’s upper house of parliament where any of its 60 members can introduce legislation.
Then, on 29 June, Dublin city elected GP councillor Hazel Chu as its lord mayor. She is the first Dublin lord mayor born to migrant parents. The lord mayor is the first citizen of the city, presides at meetings of its council, and acts as ambassador both locally and internationally.
On 1 March 2017, Travellers became recognised as a distinct ethnic group in Ireland. Traveller and Roma centre Pavee Point believes this recognition was an important step as it recognised that “Travellers experience racism and discrimination”.
It also allows for Travellers’ specific needs to be met and it rejects the “assimilationist policies and strategies” used to ‘solve’ the Traveller ‘problem’. Additionally it celebrates diversity in Irish society.
Discrimination against Travellers
Travellers are 38 times more likely to report discrimination with regard to access to shops, public houses and restaurants, than other ‘white Irish’ persons.
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And they are:
between 9 and 22 times more likely than other ‘white Irish’ persons to experience discrimination in access to housing
Eileen Flynn works as an activist and in community development. She took part in campaigns in Ireland on Traveller and women’s rights and abortion issues. And now that’s she’s a senator she’s in a position to introduce legislation. Her aim is to introduce legislation to deal with hate crime in Ireland.
Minority rights in Ireland
And while the position of Dublin city mayor is mainly ceremonial, Chu’s GP wanted to change its role. In 2016, the GP proposed legislation to make the position directly electable by the people. And while it hasn’t happened yet in Dublin, it did in Limerick city.
Chu was first elected to Dublin City Council in May 2019. And just over a year later she became its mayor with support from various political parties.
She has spoken up for a review of hate crime legislation in Ireland while personally experiencing online racist abuse. Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU without purpose-built anti-hate crime legislation.
While far-right parties have gained ground in Europe and the US, far-right parties in Ireland have almost no electoral support. What’s more, recent electoral losses for the far right in local French elections are further cause for celebration.
But with widespread racist attitudes reported across Ireland, outright celebration is far from being an option. The 2020 US presidential election campaign and racist abuse against Black Lives Matter protesters give even more reason for concern.
The election and appointment of Chu and Flynn may be small steps, but they’re important ones. And as their positions can affect real change, they could grow to be even more important.
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