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.