I welcome the members of the joint committee and those viewing our proceedings on Oireachtas TV. The purpose of the meeting is to continue our deliberations on the topic of the impact of education on the Traveller community. We have had one meeting on this topic and two more are scheduled after today. It may be worth making some observations and mentioning some facts as a way of framing our conversation. As an opening reflection, I emphasise that education is a key issue for Travellers and that Travellers value education greatly. As the delegates point out in their submission - I apologise for stealing their words - it is a "real misconception" to think otherwise. Travellers experience significant barriers at all levels as they seek to access education. Schools can be a very cold place for them. Even though people can start out with great enthusiasm, it is often the case that their experience when they land in school is not conducive to flourishing in that space.
Traveller history and culture are still not reflected in the school curriculum. The massive cuts to Traveller education services made in the 2000s have not yet been restored or reversed. Traveller children are more likely to have timetables with reduced hours. This issue has been examined in great detail by the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. It is sobering and arresting for this committee to think about the fact that just 80% of Travellers transfer from primary to secondary school. Traveller children are 50 times more likely than children from the general population to leave school without completing the leaving certificate examinations. Just 13% of female Travellers are educated to upper secondary level, as opposed to 69% of the general population. According to the last census, just 167 Travellers have a third level qualification. As a consequence, the unemployment rate among Travellers is 80%. I am sure all of the statistics I have mentioned will be discussed again.
I welcome Ms Shreya Chaturvedi, a development worker with the Yellow Flag programme. She is accompanied by Mr. Bernard Joyce, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement; Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin, with whom I had the pleasure of working closely for a full year and who is incredibly helpful in the proceedings and the work that is ongoing in the Oireachtas on Travellers' rights and issues; and Mr. Martin Collins from Pavee Point. They are extremely welcome.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I also advise that any submission or opening statement made to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make her or him identifiable.
I remind everyone in attendance that his or her mobile phone is to be turned off because mobile phone can still interfere with the recording system, even when left in silent mode.
I want to welcome some people who are in the Visitors Gallery.
We have Irene Hughes from St. Mary's, Edenderry, Lauren Cotter from Loretto College, St. Stephen's Green, Teng Fei Wang from Ballinteer Community College, Laragh Phillips, Coláiste na hInse, Bettystown, County Meath and Daniel Philpott Vendrells, Presentation Brothers, Cork city. I extend a particular welcome to them all and I say "hello" to the fellow Cork person in the room. I do not live too far away from the school, so I will be able to spot him on the hill now.
I invite Ms Chaturvedi to make her opening statement.