Roma in Ireland: Pavee Point report exposes ‘relentless’ poverty and deep discrimination

By Bernard Rorke

“During the research I met members of my community who could not put food on the table and who were living in houses that were completely unfit for human beings.  It was very upsetting.”

                                                                                         Gabi Muntean, Pavee Point

At the January launch of the report Roma in Ireland – A National Needs Assessment, Gabi Muntean from Pavee Point described just how shocking were the findings of this unique in-depth study into the dire situation of Roma in Ireland. 

“It’s particularly hard to hear about the children living in overcrowded houses with rats, damp and sewerage.  Some people said they did not have the basic supplies for new babies, such as nappies and baby clothes, and that children were going to school hungry and without lunch.”

This excellent research report produced by Pavee Point in cooperation with the Department of Justice and Equality is one outcome of the special inquiry that followed the state abduction of two Romani children from their families in 2013 on the grounds of ‘being blonde’.

The subsequent Logan Report into the scandal established that the mistreatment of Roma was based on ethnicity and recommended that the government, working with relevant state agencies and civil society organisations, should produce an up-to-date assessment to establish how best to improve State agencies’ interaction with the Roma community.

Emily Logan, chief commissioner with the Irish Human and Equality Commission, said the findings were “shameful” and described the poverty experienced by more than half of Ireland’s 5,000 Roma as “relentless” and that the daily struggle to survive made social inclusion “extremely difficult”. 

Demographics

Prior to the mid-1990s a small number of Roma entered Ireland as seasonal short-term workers. In the mid-1990s some Roma sought asylum in Ireland and in addition, while others came in search of employment opportunities. Since the enlargement of the European Union, Roma have migrated to Ireland as EU citizens. Ireland now has a small population of Roma who are mainly EU citizens.

The research estimates the population of Roma in Ireland as between 4,000 and 5,000, and shows that there are now second and third generation Roma living in Ireland. 70% of respondents have been living in Ireland for five years or more, with 14% living in Ireland 15 years or more. 63.3% of children in households were born in Ireland and 52.2% of children are Irish citizens.

Marginalisation

Up to 20% of respondents are completely marginalised from services and supports, living in extreme poverty, in sub-standard overcrowded accommodation, sometimes with no bathroom, kitchen or cooker. Researchers noted that many children living in these conditions of abject poverty, with rats, damp and dodgy sewerage, are frequently malnourished and go to school hungry. Beyond this, 60% of respondents reported experiences of consistent poverty, including not always having enough fuel, food or heat; 52% reported someone in the household has gone to bed hungry.

Difficulties in accessing services and supports such as medical cards, training and employment schemes, homeless supports or social protection payments, are largely due to not having the right to reside or not meeting the habitual residence condition. Barriers outlined by respondents were lack of documentation to prove residency, language barriers, not knowing about services or how to access them, and experiences of discrimination.

Discrimination

More than 80% of respondents experienced discrimination in a street or public setting, through verbal abuse and racist taunts, including being shouted at and told to ‘Go back to your own country’. 74% of respondents reported feeling discriminated against in shops, restaurants, pubs and other social venues. They highlighted being denied entry to shops or being followed around by security staff while they shop; and 77.5% reported being stopped for ID checks by police.

The highest rates of perceived discrimination were reported in accessing accommodation (93%). In some cases, landlords said they do not accept Roma tenants, but in other cases, people would simply be told that the accommodation was now taken. Service providers also reported witnessing direct discrimination with landlords refusing to accept Roma as tenants.

Health

Nearly half of respondents reported that they do not have access to medical cards and GP care. The high cost of health care means that Roma cannot access the care they need. As regards maternal health, 24% of women had not accessed health services while pregnant and their first point of access was to give birth. Service providers identified newborn babies living in houses with no heat, food or basic supplies. 37.1% of respondents reported that they did not have adequate supplies for the baby after birth.

Education

The report showed how determined are the parents to ensure their children complete their education and manage to achieve high levels of attendance despite difficult living conditions. In over 70% of households, children attended primary and post-primary school. Service providers noted that, in some cases despite families living in one or two rooms, children were still attending school and completing their homework each evening.

“The community is doing a sterling job, with so many not having a background in education, that so many kids are going ahead and engaging in education.....when you are handing someone over to another authority... if you have no experience of that yourself or the benefits of it, is quite a thing that so many kids are going to school and are engaging.”

However, poverty and poor living conditions act as formidable barriers to accessing education, and inhibit children from realizing their potential. In 25% of households respondents reported that children have gone to school hungry.

“The Roma in Ireland report offers a long-awaited model for designing Romani research and policy demands through substantive participation. Romani researchers participated in all stages of this study, from design to implementation … The Pavee Point study team produced unbiased, community-driven data and the report stands as a model: an authentic interpretation of the Roma experience.” (From the Foreword written by Margareta Matache)

Moving forward

‘We know from this study that there are third generation Irish Roma. We are part of Ireland now. We want to be accepted in our society and to be active in decisions affecting our lives.”

                                                                                              Gabi Muntean, Pavee Point

As stated in the foreword, the report’s policy recommendations are the result of hard work by the Romani research group, which successfully demonstrated the value, and the power, of using indigenous knowledge. These detailed and precise recommendations, which call for targeted interventions to tackle poverty, ensure access to services, and decisive measures to combat anti-Roma racism, must be acted on as a matter of urgency. At the launch event Gabi Muntean stated, “We are happy that Roma voices are finally being heard, even though it was sometimes shocking and hard to hear the results. This study is the reality for Roma in Ireland – Roma trusted us to share their information and experiences, now we need to take action.”

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