Dáil Éireann - Volume 619 - 11 May, 2006

Written Answers. - Traveller Community.

Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the efforts he is making [728] to combat the social exclusion experienced by the travelling community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17679/06]

  Mr. Brennan: Members of the travelling community are recognized as being among the groups in Irish society which are most vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion. Since 1997, when the first National Action Plan against poverty (NAPS) was introduced, a strategic approach has been taken to combating poverty and social exclusion which recognizes their multifaceted nature and the need for a coordinated multi-policy response at national, regional and local levels of government. The need for such a response is particularly evident in the case of groups such as the Travellers, many of whom experience multiple deprivation. The national strategic process has been aligned with the similar EU strategic process designed to assist Member States in meeting the pledge made at Lisbon in 2000 “to make a decisive impact on poverty”. This requires Member States to produce National Action Plans against Poverty and Social Exclusion (NAPs/inclusion). The Office for Social Inclusion (OSI) in my Department is currently coordinating the preparation of the third such plan to cover the period, 2006 to 2008, from which a shorter streamlined version is due to be submitted to the EU Commission in September.

Members of the Travelling community are already recognized in this strategic process as a vulnerable group. The current plan includes the objective of improving their life experience through the provision of appropriate education, health and housing services and removing remaining barriers to their full participation in the work and social life of the country. The plan also includes a number of specific targets in relation to Traveller health, education and accommodation. Progress in achieving the objectives and targets in the plan is monitored and evaluated. The OSI has reported on progress in relation to all the targets in the plan, most recently in an Implementation and Update report which was submitted to the EU in June 2005. The Report was published on the OSI website. Progress was reported on the objectives in relation to Travellers.

Lack of comprehensive data specifically on Travellers has created difficulties in measuring the progress achieved and, as a consequence, in developing the policies and determining the resources required to fully and properly meet their needs. As part of their work on a developing and implementing a data strategy for social inclusion, the OSI has engaged the ESRI to produce a series of data profiles in respect of vulnerable groups, including Travellers, which will provide a more detailed picture of their socio-economic situation and that of other such groups. As part of preparation for the next NAP/inclusion, the OSI undertook an extensive consultation process, which included contri[729] butions and the involvement of Travellers and their representatives. My Department is represented on the high level group of senior officials which is overseeing progress on Traveller issues and which will also have a major input to the next NAP/inclusion on how to achieve a more effective, co-ordinated response to the needs of Travellers. The next National Action Plan will aim to build on the progress already made and I am confident that it will make possible significant improvements in the quality of life and well being of Travellers.

As far as the Social Welfare system specifically is concerned, Travellers have the same entitlements as other citizens. My Department has set out in its Customer Service Charter and action plans the commitments, in terms of service delivery, for all customers including those who are members of the Traveller community. Travellers also have the same entitlements to access services such as the employment support services, including the back to education and the back to work schemes. These supports aim to help people access employment or to enhance their education so as to improve their opportunities for employment and training.