The Right to Participation of Minorities and Irish Travellers

Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 6, pp. 2-30, 2006

28 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2006 Last revised: 9 Feb 2009

See all articles by Rory O'Connell

Rory O'Connell

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute


The idea of participation is becoming increasingly important in international human rights law and recent political and constitutional theory. There is an emerging international law right of minorities to participate in public life. There are many problems though with putting this right into practice. It is not enough to offer formal opportunities for representation or even to facilitate more participatory processes. This article explores how participation is more easily proclaimed than practised by examining the position of one ethnic minority, Travellers, in a liberal democracy, Ireland. While there are many formal opportunities for participation, these do not necessarily result in effective participation on a basis of equality, and may still result in decisions which fail to consider the Traveller culture and identity. Travellers still suffer from an imbalance of power in these arrangements. There are hopeful avenues to pursue in improving participation, the role of civil society and the use of a dialogue between non-governmental organisations and international organisations to put pressure on a national government, including special representation to offset the disadvantages of traditional representative democracy and emphasising the role of special parliamentary bodies; and the need to address the politics of recognition so as to strengthen the hand of disadvantaged groups such as Travellers.

Keywords: Law, Minorities, Democracy, Human Rights

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

O'Connell, Rory, The Right to Participation of Minorities and Irish Travellers. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, Vol. 6, pp. 2-30, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Rory O'Connell (Contact Author)

Ulster University - Transitional Justice Institute ( email )

Shore Road
Newtownabbey, County Antrim BT37 OQB
Northern Ireland


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