I welcome members of the committee, and viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV, to the meeting, the purpose of which is to continue the committee's deliberations on the topic of education and how it impacts on the Traveller community. This is our third session. The committee has heard from Ms Catherine Joyce of the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group, the National Traveller Women's Forum, Mr. Patrick Nevin of the Travellers' Community Development Project, Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin,Mr. Martin Collins of Pavee Point, and Ms Shreya Chaturvedi and Mr. Bernard Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement and its Yellow Flag programme.
When the committee heard from Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin last week, he told us that it is a misconception that Travellers do not value education. This message has come through loud and strong in our deliberations on education. I am sure we will hear more to that effect this morning. Mr. de Bhairdúin said:
There exists among all people a desire to prosper, grow and learn, and the doorways created by education are greatly valued and desired by Travellers. However, many of these doorways are locked to us.
The committee heard that Travellers are far more likely to be put on reduced-hours timetables and that travellers are 50 times more likely to leave school without a leaving certificate. This is a very hard, strong, clear and sobering fact. Some 57% of male Travellers are educated to primary level at most, and only 13% of Traveller females are educated to upper secondary level or above compared to 70% of the wider population. Fewer than 1% of Travellers have a third level qualification. In 2011-12 during the height of the recession, there were draconian cuts to Traveller education that resulted in visiting teacher services being disbanded and a loss of 42 resource teacher jobs. Those cuts still have not been reversed in any meaningful way. Traveller centres were also closed.
We heard how Travellers do not so much drop out but are pushed out through bullying, lack of adequate supports and understanding, etc. That is what Pavee Point stated last week. There are also some positive aspects in this area, and we will hear about some of those today. Some six new schools will get the yellow flag in Leinster House this Thursday and that is to be celebrated. Again, however, that programme runs on a shoestring and it would be good to see it put on a firmer footing. It is something practical the Department of Education and Skills could consider and I am sure that will feature in our recommendations
These sessions are concerned with removing barriers or identifying ways to remove the barriers for children who routinely find the door closed to them. We need to learn how to make schools warm, welcoming and safe spaces for Travellers, how to clear the pathways and take specific and affirmative action so that Travellers can enjoy their right to education in the same way as the general population. We will be hearing today from Deputy Jan O'Sullivan. It is a miserable morning and she is stuck in traffic. She is on her way, however. The Deputy is a former Minister for Education and Skills and current co-chair of the Oireachtas Traveller Group, and it will be valuable to hear her perspective on these issues. I also think she is presenting the yellow flag awards on Thursday. We will also be hearing from Dr. Teresa O'Doherty from the Marino Institute of Education, MIE, and from Mr. Patrick McDonagh, a Traveller and PhD student in medieval history at Trinity College Dublin.
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. 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 also advise that any submission or opening statement made to the committee will be published on its website after the meeting. That website is a fantastic repository of information.
We will take questions from members of the committee after the witnesses have presented. I call Dr. O'Doherty to make her opening statement.