‘The new Government must respect their rights’ – Calls for a permanent place in the Seanad for members of the Traveller community

Photo: Oireachtas.ie

As the main political parties in Ireland scramble to form a coalition, members of the Traveller community are urging the new government not to forget Traveller rights and to follow through on a long-awaited promise to reserve seats in the Seanad for members of the Traveller community.

By Kim O’Leary

As a new Government starts to take shape in Ireland following the 2020 General Election, fresh calls have been made for a place in the Seanad to be reserved for members of the Traveller community.

A new Seanad report released in January 2020 recommended a quota system to be installed in both Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure Traveller participation in politics, the report says. 

The report of the Seanad Committee, which is made up of 10 senators from across the political spectrum, examined Travellers’ experience of life in Ireland following recognition of their ethnic minority status three years ago. A total of 34 recommendations were made.

These include: 
● Reserving a seat in the Seanad for Travellers (Taoiseach’s nominee) and introducing Traveller quota system across the Oireachtas, in local democracy, in other decision-making for and within the civil and public service.
● Setting targets for Traveller women in mainstream gender quotas, party political gender quotas and State agencies’ quotas.
● Introducing a paid internship scheme for Travellers in the civil and public service.
● Protecting and increasing resources for independent national and local Traveller organisations in respect of their work to support Traveller participation and towards broader social inclusion.

The Irish Traveller Movement, Pavee Point, the National Traveller Women’s Forum, Mincéir Whiden and the Traveller Counselling Service gave unanimous support to the report at the launch and called on the next government to prioritise the recommendations.

Brendan Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement told TheCity.ie that last month’s report is the first report of its kind and has brought the issues in terms of Traveller equality “right into the government building”.

In particular, Joyce highlighted the lack of Traveller participation in political life in Ireland, and the levels of inequality still experienced by Travellers today.

Testimonials by members of the Traveller community were given as part of the report – there were 34 recommendations in total made in the report that were partly informed by the testimonials.

Some of those recommendations refer to the lack of political representation for Travellers:

“Since the formation of the State, there hasn’t been a Traveller [politician] within the Seanad or Dáil Éireann. Hopefully now that a new government is on its way in after the General Election this might change,” said Joyce.

The newly released report calls for a seat to be reserved in the Seanad for a Traveller representative on a permanent basis, which would be important to the 40,000 Travellers who live in Ireland.

Joyce noted that for Traveller inclusion in Irish politics to really work, there is also the need for training in anti-racism and anti-Traveller prejudice to be carried out across all government agencies, something which all parties should sign up for.

He also noted the current discussion around the pension age in Ireland, saying that while this is going on, half of Irish Travellers won’t live until the age of 38 according to the 2010 Traveller Health Plan. “A new Traveller health action plan should be published as a matter of urgency by this new government, the last action plan in 2010 really needs to be updated
because we’re in a very different time now socially and economically,” Joyce said.

Meanwhile, Kildare Travellers are calling for the new government to do more to include Travellers both locally and nationally.

Speaking to TheCity.ie, Sylvia Walsh, a settled traveller living in Newbridge, said that inclusion for all should be the new government’s priority.

Seanad Éireann. Photo: Eolas

“I think the Travellers are very misunderstood in Ireland, we’re got Kildare Pavee Point trying its best to support us in everything from family planning to mental health, but we’re still not seen in society,” Sylvia said.

“A representation in the Seanad would do wonders for us, to be seen on a very public platform with other members of the government, the government must respect travellers’ rights.”

“This past year has been tough on us especially after cuts to primary care centres in Newbridge, so a bit of representation in the Seanad for our chosen representatives would be great so that our concerns over issues such as mental health and education are heard and respected,” Walsh continued. “This new government coming in, whether it’s Sinn Fein or Fianna Fail or whoever, they need to step up and hear us out.”

Read the full Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report on Travellers Towards a More Equitable Ireland here.

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