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Opinion: ‘Travellers have to hide their identity just to get a foot in the door’

Pavee Point’s Caoimhe McCabe outlines the level of workplace discrimination against Travellers and how to combat the problem.

LAST WEEK’S BILLION euro stimulus package marks the latest in a series of unprecedented steps taken by the State to get people back to work during these unprecedented times, and rightly so. 

The Covid-adjusted unemployment rate of 22.5% in June was a stark figure, and the new government has responded swiftly with even more back to work support.

Not all sectors of society will necessarily benefit from such mainstream initiatives, however, not least the Traveller community. 

The latest Census data from 2016 shows a staggering 80% unemployment in the Traveller community compared to just below 13% in the general population at the time.

With figures like this, it is clear that targeted measures are sometimes necessary to overcome particular barriers. 

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate racism in Irish workplaces and recruitment processes. See how you can support this project here.

Far more likely to face discrimination

The two main factors contributing to Traveller unemployment are low educational outcomes and discrimination in the workplace. 

A 2010 Maynooth University study shows that 41% of people were not willing to employ a Traveller. More recent research from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the Economic and Social Research Institute shows that Irish Travellers are 10 times more likely than White Irish to experience discrimination when seeking work.

Is it any wonder then that many Travellers hide their identity when seeking work. This can take the form of disguising their accent, using a ‘settled’ address, changing their dress or hairstyle or just not talking about where they live or their family. 

Take for example, a member of venue staff who approached our team at a conference where we had an information stand. She explained that she was a Traveller and was delighted to see representation at the event and explained that she did not tell anyone at her work that she was a Traveller. 

In another example, a young Traveller security guard in a shop was constantly told by his employers to watch out for the Travellers and Roma when they came into the shop for fear of being robbed. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and told his employer that he was a Traveller and resigned in protest.  

One of our own mental health workers went through a similar situation when she worked in a supermarket and attempted to hide her Traveller identity, changing her accent and pretending to be a whole different person.

Eventually her identity was found out and she felt that attitudes towards her changed from that day on, leading her to leave the job in frustration and disappointment.

State needs to lead the way

Pavee Point believes that the government needs to lead the way in combating discrimination against Travellers in the workplace.

We need a Traveller quota within the civil service, for example. We’ve already had successful internship programmes but these need to translate into real jobs. There needs to be a strong message that says employing Travellers is a positive thing to do.

As it stands, the Traveller community is deprived of the few role models that could be promoted by the small but significant number of Travellers working with An Garda Síochana, the Irish Prison Service, Dublin Bus, retail outlets, in the medical field, as teachers, and in elementary trades and construction, to name but a few sectors.

Coming from a marginalised community also makes it harder to build network and connections, get apprenticeships and simply to get a foot in the door.

This is why Travellers often tend to gravitate towards self-employment and have developed flexibility in servicing niche markets such as door-to-door sales, chimney sweeping, market trading, landscaping and garden work.


Source: Parliament Ireland/YouTube

Creating a new model

Creating a system for Traveller enterprise to be validated in a positive way would encourage many Travellers who often have difficulties in securing bank loans, receiving start-up investment or getting advice and support on marketing and administration.

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One area of success is Traveller employment in the Community and Voluntary Sector and especially within Traveller organisations. This area needs more investment and resources.

A new and innovative training programme with the HSE, Maynooth University and Traveller organisations also aims to train graduates as equality practitioners to mainstream Traveller equality within the health service.

While small gains are being made, we need an overall Traveller Employment Strategy and a whole of government approach to coordinate this work. 

We have seen during COVID-19 that departments working together can achieve real progress. We need this cross-departmental approach to be the new normal.

Caoimhe McCabe is a Information & Communications Worker with Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre. Pavee Point’s vision is that Travellers and Roma are fully recognised and respected as minority ethnic groups who are proud and confident in their cultural identity and exercising their human rights. 

RACISM AT WORK Investigation

Do you want to know how deep the tentacles of racism go in Irish workplaces?

The Noteworthy team wants to do an in-depth investigation to spotlight the experiences of people who have suffered incidents of racism in the labour force.

Here’s how to help support this proposal> 

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