State must consider reparations for Travelling community, committee hears

Oireachtas given detailed breakdown of Travellers’ experiences in education system

The State needs to consider formal reparations for the Travelling community to address historic ills and issues its members face on a daily basis, an Oireachtas Committee has heard.

The types suggested include the inclusion of Traveller history in the education curriculum as well as a programme of affirmative action as initiated in countries such as the US and Australia.

"This must be a priority for the State if it is going to be serious in trying to reverse the six decades of the assimilationist policy," said Patrick Nevin, co-ordinator of the Tallaght Travellers Community Development Project, who outlined over half a century of engineered institutional prejudice.

He was one of four speakers addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community, specifically in the area of education.


“The State and its institutions needs to accept its direct role in the catastrophic damage to the Traveller community,” he said. “We must have an open, transparent and honest discourse like we have in recent years in regards to other state and institutionalised wrongs.”

Reduced timetables

Mr Nevin said since the early 1960s the State had taken the “problem of Travellers” seriously and that racism “from the top down” could not be underestimated.

“Travellers went from essentially a nomadic transient population . . . to a community that was forced to sedentarise and settle in urban centres.”

He also said the “historic othering” of the Travelling community could now be seen in how other minority groups were being treated, particularly in the case of immigrants.

“The State needs to hold its hands up and say we need to take cognisance of what we inflicted on (this) community.”

Tuesday’s committee heard a detailed breakdown of Travellers’ experiences in the education system – specifically the lack of access and subjection to racism. The issue of “reduced timetables” came up repeatedly – the practice of scaling back a child’s school hours.

Committee chair Senator Lynn Ruane said the issue had been raised before the Oireachtas Education Committee and that "it really has been used as a tool to reinforce inequality and to further increase the level of racism and segregation that's happening in schools".

‘Lazy way out’

Fianna Fail TD Éamon Ó Cuív said it was a “lazy way out”, used as a standard response instead of acknowledging the need for further supports to help children.

A submission to committee members from the National Travellers Women’s Forum (NTWF) said the education system was replete with racist bullying, low expectations from teachers as demonstrative of bias, and the continuation of discriminatory practices. It too called for the inclusion of Traveller culture in the curriculum.

In her statement, Catherine Joyce of the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group said just 1 per cent of Travellers progressed to third level education while 55 per cent had left school by the age of 15.

"I hope that (my child) never has to go through the struggles that I went through in the education system," said Eileen Flynn of the NTWF, who herself went on to get a degree.

“Not every single child within my community is that lucky. We need the schools to be able to say, just because you are a Traveller girl doesn’t mean that you want to go off and get married; just because you are a Traveller young man doesn’t mean that you’re going to go off and get married. Our children need to be valued within the education system.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times