I welcome Members and any viewers who may be watching our proceedings on Oireachtas TV. I also welcome our visitors in the Gallery, some of whom have already made presentations to this committee. Today is our final session of four on the issue of education. We have already listened to Ms Catherine Joyce of Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group; Ms Eileen Flynn of the National Traveller Women’s Forum; Mr. Patrick Nevin of the Tallaght Traveller Community Development Project; Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin, a young Traveller who worked with me for a year in developing a programme on Traveller rights; Mr. Martin Collins of Pavee Point; Ms Shreya Chaturvedi; and Mr. Bernard Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement's Yellow Flag programme. We have also heard from Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, a former Minister for Education and Skills and co-chair of the Traveller Oireachtas group; Dr. Teresa O’ Doherty of Marino Institute of Education; and Mr. Patrick McDonagh, who is a PhD student in medieval history at Trinity College Dublin and a Traveller.
A big message we have heard in these sessions is that Travellers are not so much dropping out of education as being pushed out by the actions or inaction of the system. We learned that the practice of using reduced-hours timetables is all too common for Travellers. This is a good example of Travellers being pushed out of education, but it is not the only one. Ms Catherine Joyce of Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group described how her son, a 14 year old boy, adopts the role of teacher to educate the settled pupils and teacher in his class about the Traveller way of life in the absence of any formal inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum. When there is no positive reflection of Traveller life in our schools, we put enormous pressure on Traveller children and students to take up the role of teacher and representative. That role should not fall to a schoolchild. Children should be at school simply to learn and be educated.
We heard from Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin that it is a misconception that Travellers do not value education. It is a myth that one often hears but it is not true. It is a falsehood. Bullying and discrimination are sad realities for many Traveller children, with schools and teachers often reluctant to, or ignorant as to how to, combat them. Four in ten Traveller children say that they have been bullied at school; that is 40%. Bright and eager learners are being pushed out of education due to ignorance and discrimination. I will state the facts about Traveller education again, facts with which we, as a committee, should be very familiar and know by now.
According to the 2016 census conducted by the Central Statistics Office, nearly six in ten male Travellers, 57.2%, were educated to primary level at most. Among Traveller females, just 13% were educated to upper secondary level or above, compared to almost seven in ten, 70%, of the general population. That is an enormous gap. A total of 167 Travellers, 0.5%, have third-level qualifications. The Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, report, A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland, found in 2017 that Travellers are over 50 times more likely to leave school without the leaving certificate in comparison with their counterparts in the non-Traveller population. There is an enormous gulf and disparity between the outcomes for Traveller children in the education system and the settled population. Only 8% of working-age Travellers, compared to 73% of non-Travellers, have reached leaving certificate level and fewer than one in ten Travellers aged 25 to 34 have completed second-level education compared with 86% nationally. These are the facts on which we have to reflect. We will be hearing about some of the welcome initiatives that are under way but we must put all those initiatives in the context of the huge disparities between the educational outcomes for Travellers and the general population.
Over the course of the sessions, we have heard a number of recommendations aimed at removing barriers to education for Travellers and they will be reflected in our final report. What was common among the recommendations was the need to provide education support to Travellers throughout their time in education, starting with the early years, continuing right through primary, junior and senior cycles and into third level. People need support at all stages from preschool to third level. However, we heard that it is not good enough to only support Travellers, we also need to make our schools the welcoming and warm places they should, and must, be for Travellers because Travellers have the same right to an education as everybody else.
Representatives of the Yellow Flag programme, from whom we heard last week, showed us an example of how to do this. They were also in the audiovisual room of the Oireachtas to award yellow flags to five primary schools and one secondary school. Those flags mark a school's inclusivity of all cultures and ethnicity, celebration of diversity and challenge to racism and discrimination.
One young Traveller boy remarked that, before the Yellow Flag programme, he was shy of speaking about his background but, after Traveller pride day in school, he felt proud and confident of his heritage, as he should be. All children should feel this way. No child should have to hide parts of themselves and that includes the need for intercultural awareness and anti-discriminatory training for teachers, a recommendation that is echoed in the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission's recent report, Ireland and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which also specifically references the teaching of Traveller culture and history in schools.
We are talking about issues affecting Travellers in Leinster House this morning but they are also under consideration in Geneva where Ireland is reporting to the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. We have much to do to put our house in order. The ideas and recommendations that will come from this committee will help our State to put its house in order. That is an important contribution that we, as a committee, will be making in the course of our reporting on this matter.
From the Department of Education and Skills, I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh, the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell O'Connor, Mr. Enda Hughes, principal officer, and Ms Patricia Sheehan, assistant principal officer.
I also welcome: Ms Tara Farrell, chairperson of Aontas; Ms Cathleen McDonagh Clark from the Education and Training Service; Mr. Neill McDermott from the Higher Education Authority, HEA; Ms Caitríona Ryan, head of access policy at the HEA; Ms Inez Bailey, CEO of the National Adult Literacy Agency, NALA; and Mr. Brian Melia, principal of Galway community college and Galway and Roscommon Education and Training Board.
I draw the attention of our guests to the fact that, 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. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it 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 House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind those present to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode as they interfere with the recording systems. I also advise our guests that any submissions or opening statements they make will be published on the committee website after this meeting.
Following the presentations, there will be questions from members. We must stick to a strict five-minute rule because we have a lot of witnesses to hear from this morning and it is important that we hear all of the voices. I now call on Mr. Hughes to make his opening statement.