Home > Ethnic data collection and monitoring.

Lyons, Suzi (2016) Ethnic data collection and monitoring. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 59, Autumn 2016, pp. 21-22.

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Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre launched its new report Policy and practice in ethnic data collection and monitoring1 2 on Monday, 21 March to mark International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A seminar was also held on the day, chaired by Anastasia Crickley, the Vice-President of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), with presentations from Lynsey Kavanagh, author of the report, and Andrew Millard, Equalities Intelligence Manager, Scottish Public Health Observatory. Diane Nurse, HSE National Lead for Social Inclusion, Primary Care Division, provided the closing comments to the seminar. Co-directors of Pavee Point, Ronnie Fay made opening comments, while Martin Collins officially launched the report.


This report was in response to the paucity of data in official statistics on ethnic minority groups in Ireland, particularly Irish Travellers and Roma. Ethnic equality monitoring (EEM) is defined as the systematic and regular collection of data on the ethnic composition of a population. It is 20 years since the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) at the European Commission first recommended that ethnic data be collected to help implement policies to combat racism. Since then, many national and international organisations have stressed the importance of accurate EEM to evaluate the outcomes of policies and strategies to tackle discrimination against Travellers and Roma.


The United Kingdom is one of the few countries to have systemic EEM in place, with many other European countries slow to introduce EEM, often citing privacy, legal and moral issues as barriers. However, this report stresses that EEM data can be disaggregated and published in a manner that is appropriate and that protects the privacy of the individuals, but still provides useable data to inform policies and planning in order to provide appropriate services.


EEM is not a simple solution to eradicate discrimination. It is a powerful tool that can highlight areas of concern, specifically processes of inequality and discrimination which otherwise may go undetected (Wagman, 2002). (p. 16)3


Despite this, EEM is not common practice among organisations in Ireland. The authors highlight section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014,4 which instructs that public bodies ‘have regard to the need to: (a) eliminate discrimination, (b) promote equality of opportunity and treatment of its staff and the persons to whom it provides services, and (c) protect the human rights of its members, staff and the persons to whom it provides services’. The report states that without accurate EEM, public bodies will not be able to demonstrate that they have met these obligations.


The report cites the national census, produced by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), and the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS) as examples of good practice. The NDTRS has been recording ethnic identifiers since 2007. However, the report also states that often even the limited ethnic data available is not used to its full extent. While not unique to Ireland, the lack of EEM data inhibits the planning of effective services, monitoring access to them, and their outcomes.


Travellers and Roma themselves can be hesitant about disclosing their personal information for fear of discrimination and from lack of trust. However, research has shown that participation can be increased when the minority ethnic groups themselves are consulted and involved in the process of data collection itself from design, data collection and analysis. A participative and consultative approach has been shown to engender trust and increase participation in studies. Another barrier to EEM can be due to reluctance or discomfort on the part of the data collector to ask the question on ethnicity for fear of offending or from a lack of understanding the rationale for the question. This can be overcome with appropriate training, which should include cultural awareness and anti-racism training.


Summary of recommendations

  1. Ethnic equality monitoring should be endorsed, promoted and supported at a senior level within State agencies. There should be a campaign to inform people of the important, human rights rationale for collecting ethnic data.
  2. A National Steering Committee with responsibility for developing and monitoring a comprehensive EEM framework to include all relevant stakeholders should be set up. This group should ensure that ethnic categories develop over time in consultation with the appropriate groups.
  3. The national committee should develop an EEM strategy in consultation with ethnic groups, to incorporate key performance indicators, deadlines and sufficient funding for any actions.
  4. All public sector organisations that collect data should provide training for staff in cultural awareness to enable them to collect ethnic data in an appropriate way and ensure that EEM is an integral part of the data collection process into the future.
  5. Any State system or survey that collects routine data should include ethnic identifiers, using the standardised CSO classifications to ensure consistency. In particular, ethnic data should be disaggregated by gender to enable planning for appropriate services for minority women.
  6. Timely, disaggregated data should be made readily accessible to all interested stakeholders biannually.
  7. Resources should be available to enable collection of standardised ethnic data.


1 Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre (2016) Policy and practice in ethnic data collection and monitoring. Dublin: Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25325/

2 See videos of the presentations made on the day at http://www.paveepoint.ie/project/ethnic-data-monitoring-initiative/

3 Wagman, D (2002) Roma women in prisons. In: Pavee Point, ed. Traveller proofing – within an equality framework. Dublin: Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, pp 15-17.


4 Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) Act (2014). Available online at http://www.ihrec.ie/about/ihrec-act-2014.html

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 59, Autumn 2016
October 2016
Page Range
pp. 21-22
Health Research Board
Issue 59, Autumn 2016

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