Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

It gives me great pleasure to bring this Bill before the House today. I am really piggybacking on the great work done by others, namely, former Senator Colette Kelleher, Oein DeBhairdun and Senator Eileen Flynn. Ms Kelleher and Mr. DeBhairdun's work during the last Seanad is a tribute to them and their commitment to the process undertaken to bring this Bill into being. This process is one in which the Traveller community and its networks and organisations, such as the Irish Traveller Movement, were, and continue to be, engaged towards an additional assurance that this Bill is one that reflects the needs and aspirations of the community.

The Bill was originally introduced into the Seanad three years ago this Saturday by the former Senator, Colette Kelleher, co-signed by Senators Lynn Ruane and the former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan. True to the community which it seeks to include, it has travelled far. It was easy for me to put this Bill forward, with the support of Senator Flynn. It is great to note that the Joint Committee on Education and Skills is supportive of the Bill. That is positive.

I have read the Seanad debate on the Bill and I do not understand why it was not brought forward as a Government Bill. That is an important question because Government commitment is important if this Bill is to pass and become law. As indicated in the Seanad by the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, for this Bill to pass it will need a money message. I hope that will be forthcoming. Hopefully, that is enough said about that and it will not be found wanting.

The Bill is important in recognising the significant role that Traveller culture has played in Irish society and that needs to be developed. Education is a key means of encouraging social acceptance of diversity, fighting discrimination and redressing disadvantage. The inclusion of Traveller culture and history within the curriculum of Irish primary and post-primary schools is a logical and necessary continuation of the State's historic recognition of Traveller ethnicity in Dáil Éireann in March 2017.

In 2005, it was recommended that Traveller culture should be an integral part of the intercultural curriculum in schools and be represented positively in each school. Similarly, the Department of Justice and Equality's National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 commits to develop educational resources on Traveller and Roma culture and history for use in primary, post-primary and adult education settings. In 2009, the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe stated that Roma and Traveller history and culture should be appropriately reflected in the general curriculum of schools in member states.

Former Senator Colette Kelleher said that this Bill arose, among other things, from consistent reports and research highlighting the grossly disproportionate outcome for Travellers in education compared with the wider community. The Bill seeks to amend the Education Act 1988 to formally include Traveller culture and history in education. Education is a key means of encouraging social acceptance of diversity, to fight discrimination and to redress disadvantage. The Bill in its current format does not guarantee the inclusion intended will happen in practice. That needs to change. There is work to do on Committee Stage and I welcome that the committee has expressed support for the Bill and is willing to work on it to ensure it does as intended. I sincerely hope the Government will support that as well so that we can get a Bill that reflects the needs of the Traveller community.

To ensure Traveller culture and history is taught across curriculum subjects rather than relegated to an optional choice dependent on a teacher's individual interest, it requires inclusion in the textbooks and materials, to be not segregated out from other lessons and for teacher training to be fit for purpose to the task. Legislative inclusion will guarantee that these components will be visible and taught across curriculum subjects. The 2018 audit of the curriculum, commissioned by the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton, and carried out by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was comprehensive and its ambition reflected what is now required. Promises made by the former Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, in 2019 were limited to a scoping exercise, which currently has not been published and is, perhaps, proof of the need for a safeguarding of inclusion in law.

Understanding Traveller history and culture as part of Ireland's story is valuable for all learners and will substantially help to combat racism, discrimination and othering. For Traveller children, a curriculum that is a positive reflection of Traveller life past and present can advance outcomes for Traveller learners and improve retention in education, but only if it is taught by teachers who are trained and culturally competent. The inclusion of Traveller culture and history within the curriculum of Irish primary and post-primary schools is a logical and necessary extension of the State's historic recognition of Traveller ethnicity in Dáil Éireann in March 2017.

There are 11,000 Traveller students in our education system and their culture and history cannot be ignored. Including Traveller culture and history in the State's education system responds specifically to the recommendations of the Committee of Ministers in the Council of Europe in 2009, including that Roma and Traveller history and culture should be appropriately reflected in the general curriculum of schools. A direct assurance also removes the burden of young children having to educate their peers, as sometimes happens with their teachers as well.

According to a 2017 ESRI report, Travellers are over 50 times more likely than persons in the general population to leave school without a leaving certificate. Only 9% of 25 to 34-year-old Travellers have completed second level education, compared with 86% of all persons nationally. These are shocking figures and this Bill can, and will, play a part in addressing them. Interestingly, in New Zealand, the adoption of Maori-centred education for over 1,000 Maori students in selected schools significantly increased the retention rates and academic results of participants relative to Maori students in other schools. That project helped to encourage the New Zealand Government to adopt a large-scale policy at national level to give Maori culture and history a central place in education. This is a perfect example of how this proposal can work and benefit society generally. Indigenous minorities are a living fact of many countries and regions. We need all children to learn about Travellers as a way to extend the horizons of global understanding and to reflect a more truthful Ireland.

As stated by the former Senator, Colette Kelleher, learning about aspects of this culture, such as the Gamin language, which is recognised by UNESCO as a protected asset, Traveller music, the historical barrel-top and wattle-lobans and Travellers' fight for inclusion and dignity, will broaden the cultural and historical education of Irish people and students in the same way as Black History Month has done for students in the UK and USA.

Enacting this much-needed legislation will help to counter the discriminatory attitudes and negative messaging regarding Travellers that exists among members of the wider community. These myths have and continue to perpetuate a cycle of victim blaming. As described by psychologist William Ryan, members of a dominant community see features of the social life of a marginalised community that are the result of poverty and marginalisation as essential features of that community's life and use this observation to justify racist attitudes that cause this cycle of poverty, exclusion and marginalisation to continue.

During the debate in the Seanad the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, said that he was supportive of actions which aim to improve educational outcomes for Travellers, including ensuring that the school setting is a more welcoming environment. It is from the dark and uncomfortable aspects of our history, including our treatment of members of the Traveller community and many other marginalised groups, that we learn the most important lessons. Recognising and respecting Traveller culture and history ensures that we can build a relationship based on trust, respect and understanding across all cultures.

I do not believe that passing this legislation will be enough and everything will change. As an Oireachtas, we must send out a strong message that we want to see this Bill enacted and delivered in all of our schools. We have been here before. The 2001 Department of Education and Skills guidelines on Traveller education in second level schools states that schools must be proactive in acknowledging and validating Traveller ways of living. Across the 14 subject areas identified in the Department's guidelines only social, personal and health education, SPHE, has had some sparse, irregular references to Travellers. There were no references to Traveller culture and history in other subjects such as history, music, business studies, geography, arts, crafts and design. Twenty years on, these guidelines have not been universally adopted by schools.

The 2018 audit of the curriculum commissioned by the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, and undertaken by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was not only comprehensive, it again highlighted the pervasive and sustained gaps within the curriculum on inclusion. The lack of any meaningful progression further informs and affirms the need to ensure an appropriate inclusion.

Traveller representative groups sat on the NCCA advisory group during the 2020-21 process, in which they met twice. The Traveller representative groups and the NCCA worked well in the earlier process, but the outcome is not yet determined and there remains no indication or commitment to extend the current process beyond its scoping stage.

Enacting this legislation will not be the panacea, but it could well be the start if the Government and the Department of Education act on it and ensure it is delivered. I take this opportunity to thank the Irish Traveller Movement for its help in regard to this debate. I am delighted to be able to move this Bill on Second Stage. I hope that the Government will not be found wanting in progressing it and in providing appropriate guarantees in regard to its much-needed, wanted and deserved delivery.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House on this vitally important Bill. At the heart of it is the underlying principle that we must strive for an education that enriches, values and nurtures every child and young person within it.

The Government will be supporting this Bill. I am acutely aware of the power of education and specifically the power that it has in not only shaping the lives of students, but in shaping the outlooks of future generations. We must always strive for a better education system, one which best meets the needs of all the students within it.

In recent decades, progress has been made in creating an education system that is more inclusive and supportive, including for Traveller children and young people. This being said, I recognise that much remains to be done and the sheer fact of this Bill being brought before the House today highlights this. As Deputies will undoubtedly be aware, this is borne out by some of the statistics surrounding Traveller children and young people in education. For example, just 13.3% of Traveller females were educated to upper secondary or above compared with 69.1% of the general population. Nearly six in ten Traveller men were educated to primary level at the highest. This is in sharp contrast to the general population, for which the comparable rate is just over one in ten. Clearly, we must do more to ensure that Traveller children and young people feel their experience and perspective is fully and equally valued by the education system so that this system provides opportunity for them to reach their fullest potential.

Since the Bill was first introduced in the Seanad, a considerable body of work has been progressed by the Department of Education in order to further this shared objective. One of the first undertakings was for the National Council on Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, the Government's advisory body on curriculum and assessment, to complete an audit of current curricular provision on Traveller culture and history in our education system. This audit was completed and subsequently published.

The audit identified a number of means through which students’ understanding of Traveller history and culture can be advanced through the present curriculum across primary and post-primary levels. For example, throughout primary school, subjects such as history offer an opportunity for students to learn more about the lives of men, women and children from different social, cultural and ethnic backgrounds through Ireland’s past. Through the social, personal and health education, SPHE, curriculum, students can be encouraged and supported in developing a greater understanding and appreciation of Ireland’s diverse communities. At post-primary level, there are also opportunities for students to develop a greater awareness of Traveller culture and education. For example, at junior cycle, schools have the autonomy to develop programmes of study that help students to develop a greater appreciation of how diverse values, beliefs and traditions have contributed to our communities and to understand how historic events have shaped contemporary society.

In considering the question of current provision, we must be careful to examine not only the curriculum as it exists on paper, but to look carefully at practices across our school system, as has been alluded to, and to examine not only whether these topics are being taught, but how they are being taught. While this work has admittedly and regrettably been slowed by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has reduced the NCCA's ability to go into schools and learn from students and teachers, it remains ongoing. It has been further supported by the appointment of a full-time education officer in the NCCA in September 2020. This officer is leading on this work and engaging with education centres from preschool to post-primary.

A first draft of the NCCA’s research paper on Traveller history and culture should be ready to present to NCCA boards and council in the fourth quarter of this year. From September 2021, public health guidelines allowing, further work on gathering examples of practice from across early years, primary and post-primary settings will begin. I look forward to the receipt of this research paper and to considering the next steps which arise from it.

In this regard, it would be remiss of me to fail to acknowledge some of the very positive work which has taken place and continues to take place within the education system to promote and support Traveller culture and integration. Much of the NCCA’s work over the coming months will be in visiting schools and other education settings to learn more about work that is already happening to promote awareness and respect of Traveller culture and history and to identify best practice for future policy development.

The question of improving Traveller outcomes and experiences in education cannot be answered by curricular change alone, as has also been alluded to previously. This change must be bolstered by further positive actions to ensure that the Irish education system and broader society is a welcoming and supportive environment for Traveller children and young people. The national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy, NTRIS, provides the framework and strategic direction for interventions across a range of Departments to support the additional needs of the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland in practical and tangible ways. It contains 149 actions across ten distinctive themes. There are a number of very significant actions for the Department of Education in this strategy, including the development of education resources on Traveller and Roma culture and history for use in primary, post-primary and adult education settings; achieving improved access, participation and outcomes for Travellers and Roma in education to achieve outcomes that are equal to those of the majority population; and fostering a positive culture of respect and protection for the cultural identity of Travellers and Roma across the education system.

I am pleased to note that there are a number of areas under this strategy in which significant progress has already been made. For example, one of the commitments under this strategy was to address potential discrimination in education by reviewing policy on admissions to school and addressing issues including the publication of school enrolment policies, the ending of waiting lists, the introduction of annual enrolment structures and ensuring transparency and fairness in admissions for pupils and their parents. The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was passed by the Oireachtas on 4 July 2018. Further to the commencement of a number of sections of this Act, all schools have drafted new admissions policies, which seek to create a consistent and equitable approach to how school admissions are operated for primary and post-primary schools. I am pleased to note that the operation of these policies has now commenced and have governed the admissions of students to primary and post-primary school for September 2021 enrolment.

Another very significant body of work being undertaken by my Department is the NTRIS education pilot, which has been established to improve school participation for Traveller children and young people. This pilot project serves four areas across the country within Dublin, Galway, Wexford and Cork, supporting approximately 50 school communities. In each of these four pilot areas, additional staffing resources have been provided comprising an additional educational welfare officer and an additional home-school liaison co-ordinator, funded by the Department of Education, and two Traveller and Roma education workers, employed by local Traveller and Roma support groups through the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. These staff work together with schools and their staff, parents, students and Traveller and Roma communities to remove barriers which affect Travellers’ engagement with, and experience of, education. Among the work undertaken through this pilot is the development of positive relationships between schools and Traveller and Roma communities, supporting effective transitions for Traveller children and young people from preschool on to primary, post-primary, and further and higher education and exploring and developing new approaches and initiatives to support Traveller and Roma children in education.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to review the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021 and to ensure that the successor strategy has a stronger outcomes-focused approach. I will be working with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, and with the Minister, Deputy Harris, in respect of education initiatives as part of the review and engagement with Traveller representatives will inform this work.

It is also worth noting some of the wider work which is under way within the Department to ensure that our schools are welcoming and positive spaces for the students and staff within them. I am thinking here of legislation such as the Education (Student and Parent Charter) Bill 2019, which sets out guidelines for a framework which schools must apply in their engagement with students and parents. The Bill seeks to support schools in proactively consulting with their school communities and creating a positive school culture. From my background in education, I know that many schools are already very advanced in this regard but it is my hope that this legislation will help to further guide and underpin this excellent work. This Bill was passed by the Seanad during its last term and I look forward to returning to the House shortly for Second Stage of the Bill.

At the core of any school community is the well-being of its students and staff. My Department seeks to promote the provision of a whole-school approach to supporting well-being. Such an approach has been found internationally to produce a wide range of educational and social benefits for children and young people, including increased inclusion, social cohesion and social capital and improvements to mental health.

The Department’s well-being policy, first published in 2018 and refreshed in 2019, is largely preventative in focus and seeks to reduce the risk factors and promote the protective factors for well-being in the school community. The provision of a positive school culture where children and young people experience a sense of safety, belonging and connectedness is a key protective factor, as is the opportunity to experience positive and respectful relationships across the school community.

Since the well-being policy was published, work has taken place to realise the vision set out therein. Following an action research project involving 30 schools, the professional development service for teachers is developing continuing professional development to support schools as they engage in a well-being promotion process. This national roll-out of continuing professional development is due to begin in autumn 2021, depending on public health advice, and will continue for three years. Supports will be offered on a face-to-face basis in the first term of the 2021-22 school year, if public health guidelines allow.

I reiterate my support for this Bill. As currently presented, this Bill provides an opportunity to recognise the unique position of Traveller culture and history within the overall Irish context. I am happy to support the Bill.

I thank the Minister. Having regard to the time allocated and the fact we must have 15 minutes at the end for the wrap-up, I estimate that with seven Deputies offering, we have about five minutes per Deputy. Is that okay?

If it is any help, I will not take 15 minutes at the end.

You are not getting 15 minutes, but ten.

That is grand. I will not take ten either.

Deputy Joan Collins is first.

It was good to hear that the Minister will support the Bill. I listened intently to the point she made about what has happened since 2018 and about the audit completed and published in 2019. I was not aware of that. I have not seen that report. Maybe it went into committee and was discussed there but I think it must be brought into the Dáil or the education committee to discuss the issues.

Travellers, as Ireland's most long-term disadvantaged group, experience gross disparities compared to the general populace in terms of educational attainment. That is still the case even though the Education (Admission to Schools) Act, the student and parent charter and the well-being policy have been brought in. The Bill introduced by the former Senator, Colette Kelleher, sought to integrate Traveller culture into the curriculum. Travellers are over 50 times more likely to leave school without a leaving certificate in comparison to non-Travellers and only 9% of 25- to 35-year-old Travellers have completed second level education, compared to 86% nationally. Including Traveller culture and history in the curriculums of Irish schools with have a transformative effect on young Travellers' relationship with the education system, recognising and validating their distinct culture and helping to work against feelings of exclusion and related high drop-out rates and towards greater levels of educational attainment.

As Deputy Pringle mentioned, the potential for the recognition of minority culture within a school curriculum to improve the education attainment of minority students was demonstrated by the Te Kotahitanga project in New Zealand, where the adoption of a Maori-centred education for over 1,000 students in selected schools significantly increased the retention rates and academic results of participants relative to Maori students in other schools and helped to encourage the New Zealand Government to adopt an education policy at a national level that gives a central place to the Maori culture.

The former Senator, Colette Kelleher, said her Bill would:

amend sections 9 and 30 of the Education Act 1998 to [state] that the Minister shall prescribe that Traveller culture and history is taught in recognised Irish schools. Given that previous Government education strategies regarding the Traveller community did not culminate in an implementation plan, [such as] the 2006 Traveller education strategy, the adoption of legislation by the Oireachtas is the best way [Senator Kelleher said] to ensure that the Department of Education ... honours its commitment to develop primary and post-primary curricula which include Traveller culture and history as mandatory elements of primary and second-level education.

[...]

[This Bill will] also allow the Minister to consult with representative bodies, [such as] the Irish Traveller Movement and other Traveller community groups[.]

I welcome the initiatives brought in to date but this Bill will introduce Traveller culture into the curriculum in all its forms, including music and history, and bring teachers, class, parents and other students into that culture.

The yellow flag initiative in October 2019, before the lost year of Covid, involved a presentation in the Dáil with five schools from Dublin, Cork and, I think, Kerry. There were cultural initiatives and activities to develop recognition of different cultures in communities. That is a good initiative but has not been broadened out enough. Only a certain number of schools do it. It is important that the Minister looks at bringing in that education part in the curriculum.

I remember going to school in the blackboard days when the paper was put up on the blackboard where mammy was at home with dinner ready waiting for daddy to come home. The culture was changed by changing that image of what was expected of the mother. It is important a clear effort is made to bring in that cultural aspect to our curriculum in the education system.

Fáiltím roimh an mBille seo agus an obair chrua atá déanta ag an iarSheanadóir Kelleher agus ag mo chomhghleacaí, an Teachta Pringle. Gabhaim buíochas leis an mbeirt acu. Is Bille iontach é, i ndáiríre, ar a lán leibhéal. Tá sé chomh gearr, dírithe agus dearfach sin. Beidh deis againn go léir foghlaim as an rud atá i gcroílár an Bhille seo. Is iontach an rud freisin nach bhfuil an tAire nó an Rialtas ag cur in aghaidh an Bhille. Is é an dúshlán atá againn anois ná é a chur i gcrích chomh sciobtha agus is féidir.

I welcome this Bill. I thank my colleague, Deputy Pringle, and the former Senator Kelleher for her hard work in pushing this through the Seanad. It has arisen organically from work on the ground and is a Bill we can only praise. It is so short. There are two paragraphs in it. I have never seen a more focused or shorter Bill in my life. Maybe I have not lived long enough. It is:

An Act to provide for recognised schools to promote a knowledge and understanding of the culture and history of the Traveller community

[...]

by the insertion of “including a knowledge and understanding of the culture and history of the Traveller community...” [and so on] after “other cultural matters,”.

It comes following the recognition in March 2017 of Traveller ethnicity. That was a wonderful night. I remember it well. The Public Gallery in the Dáil was full and it was a moment in time when we finally did the right thing following the tremendous work of Traveller organisations. They led us by the nose and we followed and did the right thing. It is interesting that when we recognised Traveller ethnicity in 2017, it followed on from an awful lot of reports. Since then there have been other reports, which are welcome. If I have a minute, I might come back to them.

It is worth noting, in particular, that the Bill follows the publication of two reports on the recognition of Traveller ethnicity by the justice and equality committee in 2014 and 2017. Both recommended the recognition by the State of Travellers as an ethnic minority.

There were other reports that led to that historic evening. I refer to one, from 1963, as an example of how far we have moved. At the time it was written, the report by the Commission on Itinerancy was considered forward-thinking. Its terms of reference, when we read them now, were staggering. It was inbuilt in its work to look on Travellers as a problem. The terms of reference were to "enquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable number", "examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life", and consider how to "promote their absorption into the general community". There was no recognition of Travellers' ethnicity or how distinctly different they were from the settled community. The members of the commission were appointed by a former judge. There was no representative of the Traveller community and no representative from the then Department of Social Welfare or any charitable organisation. We have moved very far since then, which is to be praised.

The Minister mentioned many positives in her speech. She is going to change the strategy to look more at outcomes, which is welcome. The change in admissions policy is welcome. There are many other positive points. I echo what my colleague, Deputy Joan Collins, said regarding the audit. I would love to read that report. There have also been many failures on our part and I include myself, during my time as a councillor, in that. In Galway, we have utterly failed to live up to our legal obligations to provide accommodation for Travellers.

However, tonight is not a night to go into that. Instead, it is a night to zone in on what we can learn from the Traveller community. In terms of music alone, we have Mary Doran, The Fureys, John Reilly and Pecker Dunne, to whom we must be thankful for so many tunes. The John Reilly song, "The Well Below the Valley" would have vanished if Christy Moore had not recorded it. We are indebted to the Traveller community for many things. I only have time to mention music but it is true on many other levels. I had the privilege of teaching in a training centre for Travellers when I was a student. I can only say that I learned more from them, although I hope they took something from me as well, as a teacher who was grateful to teach communication skills. We can learn as a society by being inclusive and having an open mind in respect of all cultures.

Tá an Bille seo an-tábhachtach ar fad agus tá me féin agus Sinn Féin ag tabhairt tacaíochta dó. I am happy to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill, which was brought forward by Deputy Pringle, and to offer my full support and that of my party for it. The Traveller community faces discrimination at many levels in society. This discrimination can be obvious or subtle. Many in the community feel marginalised in Irish society. Their experiences and interactions ensure they are made to feel excluded on a regular basis. They are made to feel they do not belong and are not valued as citizens of this country. The Traveller community is treated in a manner that does not reflect the values and ideals of the 1916 Proclamation, which referred to "cherishing all the children of the nation equally".

People's understanding of Traveller culture is often ill-informed, negative and, at times, condescending. To change this, we need to change people's attitudes. We can start this process of developing an understanding of Traveller culture and history by teaching it in classrooms. The inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum of primary and post-primary schools is long overdue. The Traveller community is now recognised as a distinct ethnic group and this recognition must be reflected in our education system. The community has a rich culture and history and its own unique language. It is a proud community.

More than 15 years ago, a decision was made by those in authority to block off Dunsink Lane, which linked Finglas with Castleknock and where more than 80 Traveller families were living. I vehemently opposed this ill-conceived decision, which resulted in the isolation of those families from the general community. This, in turn, led to unnecessary tensions and a breakdown in the relationships between the Traveller and settled communities. To this day, it remains a bone of contention. The boulders that remain in place are a graphic reminder of the deliberate separation of the Traveller community from the general population.

This Bill will bring much-needed awareness among the settled community of their fellow citizens in the Traveller community. I hope that, in time, through the educational process, this awareness will bring greater tolerance and understanding of a unique community that is often seen as being outside the margins of society. A curriculum that gives a positive reflection of Traveller life, past and present, is one positive step. A level playing field when it comes to education is another, and it is badly needed. This is just one small step in a process that is long overdue and will make our society more open, tolerant, strong and diverse.

I join colleagues in complimenting former Senator, Colette Kelleher, on her work in this area, along with Oein DeBhairduin, Senator Flynn and, in particular, Deputy Pringle, who has brought forward this Bill. As has been noted, it is a short Bill to promote understanding of the culture and history of the Traveller community. The question that strikes me is why we have to do pass legislation to do that. I want to use my time to look at why we do.

Realistically, if we are to address the discrimination Travellers face on a daily basis, we must acknowledge the State's role in the policy that got us here. Travellers' history, including their impact and role in the War of Independence, the role their clans played throughout our history and the history of their music and culture, is hidden from us. It is hidden from Traveller children and the wealth and richness of it are also, crucially, hidden from non-Traveller children. That creates a reliance on negative stereotypes and a cycle of racism and discrimination. The State as a whole, from its foundation, made a decision that Travellers were of no real value and set in process a policy of assimilating and absorbing them. This was backed up by legislation in 1925, three years after the State was founded, and continued right up until 2002, with the introduction of the trespass legislation.

I see the history of this State as one that includes a process of legislative cleansing of the Traveller community. The Local Government Act 1925 had a clear intent to remove Travellers from the physical environment. It was not stated quite so, but when the Act was reviewed in 1947, the then Minister said it was specifically targeted at those living at the side of the road. The State initiated an attack on a people's identity, seeking the erosion of that identity and culture. This meant they were seen as not being entitled to the same recognition, investment, resources and rights as settled people. There was a significant demarcation between them and us. The greatest insult of all was in the past ten years, when the austerity that was imposed on the people of this country saw an 85.5% cut in provision for Traveller education. That is a shocking statistic.

The Irish Free State's idea of what it was to be "true Irish" or "valued Irish" led it to create a monocultural identity. It did this in partnership with the Catholic Church, as we have seen through the pages of history. We are now more aware of what happened to women, with the backlash and counter-revolution against them by way of the Magdalen laundries, mother and baby homes, etc. We are more aware of that now, as well as the incarceration of the poor in industrial schools. That incarceration did not exclude children and poor from the Traveller community. The same level of investigation into the history of the treatment of the Traveller community by this State has not been done. It needs to be done. We must face up to what is deeply inherent in the State by way of a legislative process that encompasses all the arms of the State, including medicine, the courts, the Garda, local authorities and so on. There is a deeply embedded bias against Travellers and it is in the Department of Education as well.

That early intent of the Irish Free State to remove Travellers from the physical environment has been repeated several times. That was illustrated in the 1960s by the Commission on Itinerancy to which reference was made. It was headed up by Charles J. Haughey, the then Minister for Justice, who stated at the time there could be no final solution until itinerant families were absorbed into the general community. That is what has been happening. As noted by Deputy Connolly, there were no representatives of the Traveller community or organisations that cared about Travellers on that commission. We should look back at the history of this State and how it set out to hide the Travelling community, to impoverish it and to embed racism into every system.

That has been the experience of many Deputies, particularly at local authority level, in the context of the local Traveller accommodation committees, which have been an absolute farce because Traveller accommodation and education have only worsened since. I very much recommend the Bill but, ultimately, this issue will not be truly dealt with until we fess up and have a full investigation into the actions of the Irish Free State. As we will be commemorating 100 years since its establishment shortly, this is the time to look back in history and see how the legislative cleansing of the Travelling community was repeated several times through the decades. Let us begin by passing this legislation post-haste and ending that sort of legislative cleansing.

To be clear, what we are discussing here is a measure aimed at combatting racism and discrimination. Anti-Traveller racism runs deep in Irish society and it is strongly reflected in the State, the various arms of the State and the education system. The Minister, Deputy Foley, understated the position quite severely in her introductory remarks. I welcome the fact she is supporting the Bill but to say that, "In recent decades, progress has been made in creating an education system that is more inclusive and supportive, including for Traveller children and young people", albeit with the rider that, "This being said, I recognise that much remains to be done and the sheer fact of this Bill being brought before the House today highlights this", really understates the position, especially when you consider that a young Traveller person is 50 times less likely than other kids to stay in education up to and including the leaving certificate and that specific Traveller education supports in schools were cut to the tune of more than 85% during the austerity period.

I point to the identities of the Deputies who are present for this debate. I cannot see around corners or to the seats above me, but it seems that although the Minister has come into the Chamber to participate in the debate, she is alone on her side of the House. I stand to be corrected but is there another Government Deputy in the Chamber? The Government may be voting for the Bill but where is the enthusiasm for it among Government Deputies?

This is a very modest measure to combat racism and discrimination in schools but it is a fine Bill and I support it entirely in word and in spirit. The idea of making Traveller history and culture an integral part of the education of young people is a very positive proposal. It will encompass the songs, storytelling, language and history of Travelling people. While reading up in preparation for this debate, I learned about the role of Travelling people in the 1916 Rising and the War of Independence, when weapons were hidden in wagons and transported from one area to another etc. Young people in schools should be learning about this. By the way, two groups will gain if that is done. First, the young Traveller people who will see their history reflected in the education system will gain, but so will all the other young people in the education system who have been denied knowledge of and education on this part of the history of the country and so on. Bringing that into the education system would be warmly welcomed by a big majority of young people.

An anti-oppression point of view and consciousness is quite prevalent now among young people. You see it in terms of opposition to the oppression of women, support for #MeToo and repeal, opposition to racism with the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as on international issues such as solidarity with the Palestinian people against injustice. If Traveller history and culture become part of the education system, young people will embrace them. Of course, anti-Traveller racism and discrimination cannot be knocked on the head and dealt with for good merely through the education system. There are myriad other injustices that are rooted in society. Travellers constitute 1% of the population yet 12% of homeless young people are Travellers. I refer to the significant amounts of funds in councils for Traveller accommodation that remain unspent . That will have to be uprooted both within the education system and outside it in wider society. The Bill is a small but important step forward and I am very happy to support it.

There is a Government Deputy other than the Minister present.

Just the one, is it?

Just the one, yes. There are two of us present out of a party of 37 Deputies. Deputy Barry can work out the percentage. There are not many Deputies in general present in the Chamber.

I thank former Senators Colette Kelleher and Grace O'Sullivan and Senator Ruane for introducing the Bill in the Seanad. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for agreeing to set up an Oireachtas joint committee to deal with issues relating to the Travelling community when he was asked to do so by former Senator Colette Kelleher after a discussion I had with her regarding the need for such a committee. We agreed that, given the significant number of issues faced by the Travelling community, unless there was a dedicated committee within the then existing structures in Leinster House, we would never get around to dealing adequately with the myriad challenges that community faces. I thank Deputy Pringle, with whom I have co-operated on other issues, for bringing the Bill to the Dáil. I thank the Minister for the decision that the Government will support the Bill, which is vital to getting it through the House.

I first became interested in the Travelling community while I was a student through the inspiration of Micheál Mac Gréil, a Jesuit who made it his business to live with Travellers, to get to know them and to speak about the significant challenges they face. That was not today or yesterday. When he wrote his last book, detailing prejudice and tolerance in Ireland, I had the great honour to be asked by him to write the foreword to the book. It is interesting he dedicated his whole monumental work and the whole span of prejudice and tolerance in Ireland to Ireland's Travelling community and then, after a hyphen, wrote "Ireland's apartheid".

I often wonder whether the State reflects the attitudes of the people, or if it is the other way round and the State dictates attitudes to the people. In many ways, the reality is that in a democracy, the State reflects the views of the people. Unfortunately, when it comes to Travellers, those views are negative, discriminatory and have serious consequences. Having had to read the book to write the foreword, looking across the whole span of all the different prejudices and intolerances, the one thing that jumped out at me was that the general public attitude to the Travelling community was the most negative of all. For example, I believe the figure was 18% of Irish people believed that Irish Travellers should not have Irish citizenship. Looking at all of the other sociological indicators, they are all on the negative side. We will only change these attitudes by education and by informing people that the Travelling community is a community with a long tradition and history and a deep culture.

I believe it was Thomas Davis who stated "Educate that you may be free". I hope that with this Bill we will educate all the young people of Ireland so that they may be free of intergenerational prejudice towards a very important indigenous community in this country.

First, I thank Deputy Pringle for bringing the Bill to the House. I also thank the Minister for stating that the Government will support the Bill.

I was born and grew up in rural society in a place called Banogue in County Limerick. My father was 98 years of age when died. He was born in 1911 and grew up in the early 1900s. I recall my father telling me that members of the Travelling community of that time, a man and his wife, called to the house twice a year. According to their tradition, the man would not enter the house but the woman would. My father told me that they were the finest tinsmiths. He said they could produce workmanship that was second to none and that he did not see anywhere else. My father was a very handy man himself.

I had the chance to observe the different culture of the community in the early 1990s, when I was in school myself. There was a Traveller boy in my class who only reached second year. Later, I was on the board of management at Coláiste na Trócaire in Rathkeale in my time as a councillor. You would imagine that given that Rathkeale has a large population of Travellers, there would be many Traveller children at the school. Believe it or not, in certain classes you would be lucky to find one. Indeed, the Coláiste na Trócaire in Rathkeale had among the lowest number of Traveller students attending in the county.

The school made some accommodations for the Travelling community. Part of the culture of some of the members of the Travelling community in Rathkeale was that they did not want their children, and the girls in particular, to mix with the boys in the mainstream school. A separate part of the school was set up to allow the Traveller children to come to school, because it was the only way they would do so. Most of the girls would get as far as third year and then leave. Most of the Traveller children did not progress past third year. I am not talking about long ago. It was only a few years ago.

Personally, I know many people within the Travelling community who run good businesses. There is a stigma which is present in every society and culture. There is a minority of people who cause trouble and it results in the whole community being tarred with the same brush. It seems to happen in many cultures. In my experience, the majority of people within the Travelling community are good people, but like all societies, there is a minority that causes trouble. Minorities should not rule anything.

Every person and child, no matter what culture they are from and what race they are, should be entitled to an education, like everyone else. That is why I am supporting this Bill. Every child, regardless of nationality, is entitled to the same chances as others.

From the days of the tinsmith to the present day, we have evolved and moved forward. Technology is advancing and everything is moving forward. It is time that the education sector also moved forward. We must ensure that every male and female child in this country and world has the same rights to education. There should be no boundaries. That is why I welcome and support this Bill. I am delighted that Deputy Pringle brought it forward and thank him for doing so.

This is the type of politics that people do not often see or comment on enough. It shows the positive side of this House, whereby a piece of progressive legislation is presented by the Opposition, in this case by Deputy Pringle following on from the work of former Senator Kelleher, and is accepted and supported by Government in an attempt to advance and improve the lives of a particularly vulnerable group. I thank the Minister for supporting the Bill.

In respect of Irish politics, I would also say that we should be thankful that we do not have a mainstream political party in Ireland that plays the race card. Every other European country has one, but we do not. There are individual politicians who say stupid, ignorant things at election time. However, no mainstream political party to date has played the race card or the anti-immigrant card, outside of a referendum in 2004. We should cling to that and build on it.

What every child, person and human is looking for is a sense of belonging, to feel significant, wanted and needed. In the history of this State, we often undertook an experiment of sameness, where we presented, through our education system, an experience of Irishness that made many children feel that they did not belong, were not needed and were not significant. I know of people in my community who were brutalised for the sin of playing soccer. I know that middle Ireland feels a little dismissive about the idea of a community that gets excited about disco dancing instead of Irish dancing. Generations of young people were taught by Christian Brothers who were, in many instances, deeply unhappy people. They were teaching in parts of the country that they did not want to be in and teaching children they did not understand. They were teaching a language, in the Irish language, that was completely alien to the experience of the children they were teaching. Within all that, we now have potential, through this Bill, to empower, enrich and lift every child with the experience of our Traveller people.

I played a part in the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. As has been mentioned, it was a proud day in 2017 when the ethnicity was recognised of people who exist as part of this nation.

The Minister mentioned in her speech that she felt the Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 was progressive.

It is but there is a provision in it that I hope she will agree needs to be amended. It provides for 25% of places to be kept for the children and grandchildren of past pupils. The problem for the Traveller community is that this would affect it disproportionately because if a child's father or mother did not go to secondary school, he or she would compete for the places at a disadvantage. I hope the Minister will support the Labour Party amendment to that Bill at some stage, as she said she will.

In trying to seek significance or belonging, the power of having your culture and who you are reflected within the education system is incredibly emotional. It is incredibly emotional for a young person to feel he or she belongs. It is difficult for young persons to come to terms with the fact that they do not belong because of who they are and that there is nothing they can do about it. This causes internal frustration and anger and starts a lifelong quest for belonging that can sometimes be obtained in destructive or negative ways. With this Bill, we have an opportunity to change radically how we approach our education system. I impress on the Minister the necessity of having a teaching profession that reflects the children the teachers are teaching. We should have more teachers from Traveller, immigrant, working-class, disadvantaged and disability backgrounds so every child will feel significant and wanted and that he or she belongs.

I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I also thank the Senators who previously contributed to the development of the Bill. I particularly acknowledge the personal engagement and personal witness of many of the contributors this evening. These have added greatly to the debate. It is such a positive step that we can garner unanimity within the Chamber on this issue.

I am conscious that this Bill will not put everything to right. No Bill has that capacity but it is important that the Bill speak to opportunity and inclusion for all within the education system, especially Traveller children and young people. The Bill, as currently proposed, provides an opportunity for schools to promote Traveller culture and history. This, in turn, will assist in the development of a greater understanding of our shared history, culture and society. The work being done by the NCCA is important because that work will support schools in this regard. The engagement of an NCCA full-time education officer and the work and research, involving the gathering of examples of best practice and identifying resources and initiatives regarding Traveller culture and history, will support teachers and school leaders in delivering on the objectives of the Bill.

The Department of Education will continue to progress the actions outlined in the NTRIS and the DEIS plan to support educational provision for Travellers. Officials will continue to collaborate positively and proactively with Traveller representative groups in the context of the NTRIS and education provision generally. The strategy pilot on supporting Traveller and Roma, STAR, is under way in four areas and provides for additional staff who work together with Traveller and Roma parents, children and young people, schools, Traveller and Roma communities and local and national service providers with the overall objective of improving Traveller and Roma attendance, participation and retention in education. It is intended that the evaluation of a pilot to be conducted in the next school year will inform future policy initiatives to support children and young people from the Traveller and Roma communities in their education.

The funding provided by the Department of Education for the DEIS programme in 2021 is in the region of €150 million. A total of 887 schools are participating in the programme in the current school year. It is worth noting that approximately 50% of all Traveller students attend DEIS schools. Hence, while I acknowledge that not all Traveller pupils attend DEIS schools, the funding provided to DEIS schools means a greater proportion of Traveller students benefit relative to the general population.

At the end of April, the Department hosted a shared learning day for all DEIS schools, with a particular focus on transitions, a central theme in action planning for improvement in these schools. Well-supported educational transitions are linked to positive educational outcomes. The event was an opportunity for DEIS schools to listen to experiences of successful transition from early years education to primary education and then to post-primary, further and higher education. As part of this event, the attendees heard the inspiring stories of both a Roma student and Traveller student about their individual experiences of our education system and the supports and individuals that helped them progress into and complete higher education and fulfil their potential to the fullest.

Progress is being made on improving educational outcomes for Travellers but I accept more work remains to be done. We must always strive for a better education system, one which best meets the needs of all students within it. In supporting all initiatives to improve Traveller attendance, participation and progression in our education system, the Government agrees to support the Bill in its current format.

I thank all Members who spoke in support of the Bill. That they came in to put their words of support on the record is a tribute to them all. It was great to hear them. I pay tribute to former Senator, Colette Kelleher, Mr. Oein DeBhairduin and Senator Flynn for their support. I thank Senator Ruane and former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan, for their support in getting the Bill through the Seanad and to the Dáil tonight. This is important. I thank the Irish Traveller Movement for its input into tonight's debate, which was important.

It was great that there was widespread support from all the Members in the House tonight. That was powerful to see. While it is important to recognise how Travellers have been treated by the State, we must recognise the potential for change and how it can take place. This Bill can do a lot to contribute in this regard. It is through the education system and the education of our young people that we can make genuine change. Deputy Barry said two groups will benefit from this: Traveller children and settled children. That is important for the future. It will feed into the whole process.

I thank the Government for its support, which is vital. The Bill will now proceed to Committee Stage, which will be dealt with by the education committee. There is a need for some amendments to the Bill on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will be supportive in that regard so we can have it enacted. That will be important and send an important message.

I thank the Members, including the Ceann Comhairle. I look forward to progressing this Bill further.

I thank Deputy Pringle. He is becoming quite adept at getting his Private Members' Bills through the House. I congratulate him on that. Can I take it that it is unanimously agreed that the Bill is now read a Second Time?

Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Friday, 2 July 2021.