Report on the Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community

Report on the Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community

Transcript of my Dáil Contribution on the Report on the Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community

I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss the report. It is particularly timely and fitting that it is discussed in the week we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the declaration of Traveller ethnicity. It was extremely important, symbolically and otherwise, in the history of the State to officially recognise the contribution Travellers have made to our society.

The report lays out in stark terms what we all knew before we read it, which is that there is a persistent and systemic problem in how the State treats an ethnic community within the State. I agree with Deputy Leddin. It is a report that deserves to be read because it gives a window and insight into the lived experiences of Travelling people in our society. It is something we should acknowledge and face up to.

Members will know that before I arrived in Leinster House, I was a primary school teacher. Members might not know that in the primary school history curriculum for senior class groups there is a strand on continuity and change over time. It has a suggested unit dealing with nomadism. When I was putting together a unit of work on it for my sixth class group I could find any amount of material on African peoples who are nomadic and any amount of information on indigenous peoples in Australia who are still nomadic. Throughout all of the textbooks available to me I could find one paragraph that dealt with the Travelling community in Ireland. How must it feel as a child from the Travelling community in our classrooms to experience this level of invisibility in our society? Try as I might, I could not find a good quality resource that I could bring to my sixth class to teach them about an ethnic group that exists in our own country. In this regard I very much welcome the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill, to which Senator Flynn made reference. The inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the school curriculum would have a huge positive effect. Travellers would feel seen in our classrooms. It would help us to celebrate in a positive way the contribution Travellers have made to our culture.

I will take a slightly different approach because the Chair and members of the committee are present and they know the report in-depth with a detail that I do not have. I want to apply the lens of the sustainable development goals to this area and the committee’s report. We wear the nice shiny badge and it looks very well on the lapel. Often we think the sustainable development goals are something that happen overseas and far away from us. We might have an idea of the 17 goals but I do not know how often we dig down into the sub-targets beneath the goals. I propose to do this in the time I have.

Goal No. 1, which calls for no hunger, sets out a target addressing poverty. I do not for a moment suggest that every child who turned up in my classroom hungry in the morning came from the Travelling community. This is absolutely not the case. Often the backgrounds of the children who turned up hungry would surprise people. We know there is an issue with poverty rates in our Travelling community. This needs to be addressed. I do not think we are meeting this sustainable development goal in our State.

Goal No. 3 is about good health and well-being. The report sets this out in the clearest terms, as Deputy Gannon stated. We know that life expectancy for men in the Travelling community is 15.1 years shorter and for women it is 11 and a half years shorter than for people in the settled community. We know about the infant mortality rate. It is 3.6 times higher in the Travelling community then it is in the settled community. This is completely unacceptable.

We also know there is a mental health crisis in the Travelling community. We know that suicide is the cause of 11% of Traveller deaths. We know where it comes from. We know Travellers live in a society where racism is ingrained and, worse, is accepted. This should not be the case. I can absolutely understand the pressure. I know it is particularly young men in the Travelling community who take their own lives. There are also wider health implications. Mortality rates for cancer, cardiovascular disease and others causes of death are also significantly higher. I do not believe we have vindicated this goal in the State.

As for the goal on quality education, Senator Flynn serves on the education committee with me. The report states Travellers have severely worse education outcomes than the general population with lower retention and completion rates. We know education is the key to unlocking so much in our society. It tackles all of the other things. It tackles mental health issues. It tackles persistent poverty rates. It allows people to reach places they may not otherwise reach.

Goal No. 6 is to ensure clean water and sanitation. Recently I heard Senator Flynn speak on radio about wearing white socks to the school. I thought about the temporary halting site on the Green Road, which is about half a mile from where I grew up. I thought about the level of sanitation available there. I thought about the difficulty for mothers to send their children to school clean. When the children do not turn up to the school clean, what do they face? How does that make them feel when they arrive? That such a developed country does not meet these standards of sanitation and clean water for a section of our population is an indictment.

Goal No. 8 is about decent work and economic growth. With regard to labour market participation, the report found that just over 80% of Travellers in the labour force were unemployed. A total of 43% of travellers reported discrimination when seeking employment, while only 17% of the public stated they would employ a Traveller. This very much goes to what the Ceann Comhairle spoke about and the responsibility that rests on all of us.

Goal No. 10 to be achieved by 2030 is to reduce inequalities by empowering and promoting the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, economic or other status.

Senator Flynn said that, as she came in here, one of the ushers told her she very much deserved to be here on her own merit. I have seen how she has contributed on the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and how, with that lens and lived understanding, she has informed the work of the committee. We see how the representation of diverse communities adds to these Houses of the Oireachtas. I commend Senator Flynn on the excellent work she and all members of the committee have undertaken. As Deputy Leddin said, it is a report that richly deserves to be read and which provides insight into a community that has so far been poorly represented in our democracy.

An Ceann Comhairle

I thank Deputy Ó Cathasaigh very much for those words of wisdom.