“MINORITY COMMUNITIES IN ACTION” STUDY VISIT
4-9 SEPTEMBER 2006
DRAFT POSITION PAPER/REPORT (FINAL PAPER PENDING)
On the 6th and 7th September, NICEC held two Minority Community in Action Seminars in
Derry/Londonderry and Newry respectively. The seminars were an attempt to showcase best
practices, tools and resources developed by minority communities, for minority communities,
both locally and internationally. As the population of Northern Ireland becomes more and more
ethnically diverse, new challenges and opportunities have arisen. Discrimination and racism are
serious problems, but ones which many are confronting at grassroots levels in innovative and
creative ways. Some of the most interesting initiatives come from minority groups themselves,
who are fighting discrimination from the majority while often simultaneously challenging their
own communities. These events thus aimed to make all those involved in the area of minority
rights in Northern Ireland, and especially those working on the ground, aware of some of these
initiatives, and allow speakers the chance to tell their own stories.
Four groups of speakers were invited from London, the Czech Republic, Canada and the United
States in order both to learn from Northern Ireland’s experience, and to share their own. In the
days surrounding the event, three of these groups had the chance to meet with various
practitioners and senior policy-makers in order to explore opportunities for further collaboration
and to gain a better understanding of issues surrounding ethnic minorities in Northern Ireland.
The following report aims to give a brief overview of the proceedings, and to highlight lessons
learned during these few days.
This programme was a direct output of the NICEC visit to the Sixth International Conference on
Diversity in Organisations, Communities and Nations, where the NICEC delegation had the
opportunity to meet representatives from First Nations communities in Australia and Canada.
Delegates were struck by the possibilities for mutual learning between these communities and
those working with issues relating to Northern Ireland’s own Irish Traveller community.
Northern Ireland’s Traveller population of around 22 000 suffers discrimination, increased health
risks, low literacy rates and a myriad of obstacles in day-to-day life. It was decided to invite
representatives from the Native Women’s Association of Canada to Northern Ireland in order to
familiarise policy-makers and practitioners here to similar challenges abroad, and to help them
seek solutions. Representatives from the Roma community in the Czech Republic were invited
for the same reason. The programme, however, did not focus exclusively on the issue of
Travellers, as the visitors were curious on matters pertaining to all forms of inequality and
discrimination in Northern Ireland.
Many of the arrangements for these visits were made by the Office of the First Minister and
Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM), and NICEC would like to express its gratitude to the Office
for taking the time and trouble to present such a comprehensive and enlightening programme to
Participants from the Native Women’s Association of Canada:
Beverley Jacobs is the elected National President of the Native Women’s Association of
Canada, 2004-2006. Beverley is a lawyer and opened her own law office at the Six Nations
Grand River Territory in November 2003. Recently, she was also the lead researcher and
consultant for Amnesty International on their Stolen Sisters report, which highlighted the racial
and sexualized violence against missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Ms. Jacobs
has worked on communications for the Sisters in Spirit Campaign, a policy and public education
campaign aimed at addressing the underlying factors contributing to this violence. Beverley is
also very active in her community as a traditional Mohawk woman. She works extensively with
the Six Nations traditional chiefs and clan mothers in order to advance indigenous sovereignty.
In the past year, she has been working extensively in international fora.
Andrea Williams has 22 years experience in working with Aboriginal communities in Canada
and 12 years experience with research, assessment and evaluation with Aboriginal organizations
and programs in the Aboriginal community. A member of Sandy Lake First Nation, she
established a network of contacts in Aboriginal Provincial Territorial Organizations for on-
reserve and off-reserve interests, with strengths in identifying, developing and nurturing critical
stakeholder relationships to encourage integration and coordination of research, performance
measures and impact analysis. As owner of Williams Consulting, Andrea has extensive
experience conducting research in the Aboriginal community, including project leadership and
management of quantitative/qualitative research and impact evaluation. She is currently
conducting research for the Sisters in Spirit Initiative.
Cheryl Elliott is the Executive Director of Shkagamik-kwe Health Centre, an Aboriginal
health access centre established in 1997 to improve health and reduce family violence in the
Sudbury, Ontario area. Programs and services of Shkagamik-kwe Health Centre include a
Primary Health Care Program, which include family physicians, nursing practitioners and
clinical services; a Traditional Health Program with visiting Aboriginal traditional healers and
elders; and health promotion activities. All programs and services are culturally based and
focus on improving family relationships.
Participants from Life Together (Czech Republic):
Life Together is a registered nongovernmental nonprofit organisation founded in Ostrava in 1997.
It works on facilitating the inclusion of the Czech Republic’s Romani minority into society and
the improvement of social conditions for poor families. Its works in the humanitarian,
educational, social and judicial sectors, as well as on the issues of accommodation, employment
and human rights in general. It has established three community centers, located in strategic
places where large numbers of Romani live. Through the use of fieldworkers, social workers,
attorneys and volunteers, it seeks to provide a range of services and activities. It has won several
Lucie DiAndrea is a member of Life Together’s Human Rights Team, which is assigned to
monitor discrimination against the Romani minority, and to further address the issue and find
ways to fight it. The team supports families and children fighting at the court in Strasburg against
unjustified placement of Romani children in special schools and institutions. It helps individuals
and families who are forced to move from their homes. It monitors and addresses discrimination
in employment. It also monitors discrimination in public places such as offices, restaurants and
discos. Finally, the Human Rights Team works to ensure equality in the field of medical care. In
this connection, it functions as a shield and offers support to the victims of coercive sterilisation,
helps them get organised and encourages them to campaign for their rights. On August 17, a
member of the group testified before the United Nations Women’s Rights Committee (CEDAW)
on the issue of coercive sterilization.
Natasa Botosova and Vlasta Holubova were themselves victims of this practice and today are
active in campaigning for the recognition of this abuse and an end to continuing gender-related
discrimination in the area of health and social welfare.
On the 5th of September, participants met with the following representatives from OFMDFM:
Billy Gamble (Head of Good Relations and Reconciliation)
Ken Fraser (Head of Racial Equality Unit)
Pascal McCulla (Racial Equality Unit)
David Malcolm (Equality Unit, Department for Social Development)
John McGuinness (Equality Unit, Department for Employment and Learning)
Seamus Camplisson (Equality Unit, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety)
Colin Dunlop (Equality Unit, Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety_
Elaine McFeeters (Equality Unit, Department of Education)
Patrick Shiels (Dept of Health, Social Services and Public Safety)
They also met with the following non-governmental representatives:
Patrick Yu (Executive Director of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities)
Amtul Salam Khan (Director of Al Nisa Women’s Association)
Derek Hanway (An Munia Tober Irish Traveller support group). This meeting also involved
discussions with women’s Travellers support groups, and a visit to a Traveller site.
On the 8th of September, the delegation met with the following:
Representatives from OFMDFM’s Gender Unit
Kevin Shiels (the Domestic Violence Unit, OFMDFM)
Eileen Chan-Hu (Ballymena Community Forum)
Most meetings took place at Castle Buildings, Stormont.
Comments and Outcomes:
From feedback received, both the international visitors and local participants found these
meetings enlightening and of great use for their future work.
Specifically, all participants in this study visit had the opportunity to identify common issues and
concerns relating to minority and indigenous communities within the countries and societies
represented. These themes included discrimination, unemployment, as well as access to housing
and government services. Issues of special importance were those surrounding education and
cultural rights. Topics pertaining to the role and treatment of women were also a consistent area
This trans-national and cross-sectoral dialogue engaged local policy-makers and community
organisations in discussions identifying and sharing best – and worst – practices from the
countries represented. The exchange between the visiting delegates and local policy-makers
dealing with the issue of equality for minority and indigenous communities shed light on many of
the pressing policy questions facing OFMDFM. Cheryl Elliot of the Native Women’s Association of
Canada remarked: ‘I believe that our visit, in fact, was very beneficial for members of this
governmental unit because they were able to recognise, based on the experiences of different
countries, where they have achieved successful outcomes. At the same time, they were also able
to learn which methods that they are attempting to implement have already failed in other
For example, the representatives from the Native Women’s Association of Canada shared their
concern that government policies aimed at Irish Travellers in Northern Ireland must endeavour
to respect Traveller traditions and character. They described the experience from their own
country, where government efforts, over several decades, to change the lifestyle of Native
American people, whether voluntarily or by means of coercion, had created a painful legacy
resulting in a loss of tradition and culture, as well as poor relations between indigenous
communities and the broader Canadian society. Such international perspectives regarding the
treatment of indigenous and minority communities have the potential to contribute to
OFMDFM’s efforts to develop a consistent and effective set of policies to address the needs of
Northern Ireland’s Traveller community.
Indeed, the visit to a local Traveller’s site, and the opportunity to dialogue with members of the
Traveller community as well as the Traveller support group An Munia Tober, resonated most
strongly among the parcticpating delegates.
The delegates from Life Together found many parallels between the experience of Irish Travellers
and that of the Czech Republic’s Romani population, specifically in dealing with discrimination in
regards to access to housing and education. The isolation of a minority from the larger society
that is caused by such discrimination, according to members of both groups, begins at an early
age and can be impossible to overcome. As Life Together representative Lucie DiAndrea remarked:
‘The situation of Irish Travellers in regard to the education is similar as the one of Roma children
in my country. These children do not receive the same level of education as the children from the
majority and therefore they are disadvantaged in their future education selection. In particular, it
means that these children after finishing basic education are unable to catch up with the pace of
secondary education, as a result they are falling behind and mostly give up.’
Particpants from the Native Women’s Association of Canada were similarly stuck by experiences of
Irish Traveller communities, likewise identifying how education can become an instrument of
societal isolation and a precursor to further segregation and discrimination. Delegate Cheryl
Elliott was surprised to learn that St. Mary’s, a primary school in Belfast, is attended almost
entirely by Travellers, pointing to a sort of de facto segregation there. Although she had been told
during the week that Traveller parents were free to send their children to any school of their
choosing, she was surprised to learn that the city council did not provide any special transport to
encourage them to do so. Cheryl was also keen to see young unemployed Traveller men being
directly employed in projects aimed at regenerating areas where Traveller communities are
Both visiting delegations drew attention to the importance of preserving and valuing tradition
and cultural identity. Lucie DiAndrea referred to the Romani struggle for acceptance within
Czech society, observing that these basic goals were held by the Traveller population as well:
‘Recently, the Travellers, just as the Roma in my country, are more and more trying to point out
their culture and distinction. They want their surroundings to realize that they live here as well
with their habits and traditions. They want the majority to accept them the way they are.’
Drawing from the experience of First Nations peoples in Canada, Cheryl Elliot spoke of the need
for Northern Ireland to be proud of its Traveller community and the richness and diversity it
contributes to the culture, which is defined by all its inhabitants, not merely its majority. She
enquired whether public initaitives, such as an annual holiday, were in place for the recognition
and celebration of Traveller culture.
The experience of women in minority and indigenous communities was also a recurring theme
trhoughout all discussions during the study visit, but particularly on the 8th of September when
the visiting delegations met with representatives from OFMDFM’s Gender Unit and Domestic
Violence Unit, as well as the Ballymena Community Forum.
Two Romani women, Vlasta Hulubova and Natasha Botosova, spoke movingly about their
experiences of being sterilised without their consent. They highlighted problems with their
partners caused by sterilisation, feelings of depression and helplessness, a loss of confidence
and dignity, and other lasting physical and social consequences. In their culture, they felt, a
woman incapable of having children is ‘like an apple tree that cannot bear fruit.’ They argued
that the amount of love present in a family is more important than how much space or money
that family has, and vowed to fight for recognition of this treatment so that it may never
happen to others. This brave exchange of personal experience was shared not only with the
participants present, but was also broadcast over BBC Radio Foyle as part of a programme that
also included Stephen Wessler of the American Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence.
Throughout this series of meetings, cross-sectoral and trans-national learning formed the basis of
a fruitful dialogue between visiting delegates, local policy-makers, and community organisations.
All parties benefited from the new light shed on familiar themes – such as discrimination, access
to education, and the role of women – throughout this process. Especially important to this study
visit was the chance to identify and share best practices from a number of sectors and locales.
Moving forward, it is clear that continued cooperation and communication among those parties
who participated in this study visit – both here in Northern Ireland as well as internationally – is
likely to occur. Already, INCORE has facilitated discussions between members of the Native
Women’s Association of Canada, the Irish Traveller’s suport group An Munia Tober, as well as
OFMDFM, to explore the possibility of more direct networking and shared learning between
Canada’s First Nations and Northern Ireland’s Traveller communities.
The shared appetite for such continued dialogue is apparant not just in the will expressed by local
policy-makers and community organisations to develop better strategies for meeting the needs of
Travellers and other minority populations here in Northern Ireland, but also in the aspirations of
the international delegates for whom this study visit represented an opportunity to share in
learning and solidarity with other minority and indigenous groups. As Lucie DiAndrea of the
visiting Czech group Life Together remarked:
‘I believe, that a thought that was brought up in the INCORE project is really very crucial: All
these people from all around should stay in touch; all the cultures should meet each other on
these kinds of events in order to learn that they are not alone with their problem, that other
minorities face the same challenges. This way individuals from the minority can learn that harm
that is happening to them happens to many others all around the globe and mainly that people
who at first sight might seem to have nothing in common and seem to be completely different
are actually very much alike.’
INCORE looks forward to helping create and sustain such long-term networks and sharing in
this continued dialogue.