On behalf of the Kerry Travellers Health Community Development Project, I thank the Chairperson, Deputies, Senators and Oireachtas staff for the opportunity to present our submission on Traveller employment. My name is Brigid Quilligan and I am a Traveller woman from Killarney. I am joined by my colleague Mr. Michael McCarthy, a Traveller man from Listowel, who is our men’s health worker. We are joined in the Public Gallery by representatives of our community, Ms Nora O'Brien and Mr. Martin Mahon, our vice chair. In solidarity, we are also joined by Ms Hillary Scanlan from the Kerry HSE community work department.
Details of our project's work can be found in our submission. This is our second time before the committee and due to time constraints I ask people to refer to the submission. We come here today with recommendations which if actioned would create meaningful change for our community. On Friday, 6 December we held a county-wide consultation for older Travellers in Kerry. I have been directed by my elders not to ask or seek, but to demand change for our people. I hope we will show honour and respect to our elders and all who paved the way for us today in bringing their voices forward. They would like it to be known that we are a proud, dignified, resourceful, clever and great people. They wish to relay, particularly to our younger generation who are watching this, to never to forget that we have gone out into the world and made a living for hundreds of years, without reading or writing. We have travelled all over the world and been successful, and we can do that in Ireland too with some supports and the removal of some obvious barriers.
Using a social determinants model of health in Kerry Traveller organisations, we see clear health implications associated with poor living conditions, the high levels of exclusion and discrimination faced by Travellers and a lack of opportunities for progression. These issues, experienced to a greater or lesser extent by most Travellers on a daily basis, impact negatively on both mental and physical health. Employment and progression have a major impact on physical and mental health as well. Our organisation has a long track record of supporting local Traveller leadership, further education, mentoring and employment within our own project. We have a diverse cross-cultural team and board, which is Traveller led, though we work in meaningful partnership with others. We also work with education providers and employment services to develop opportunities for Travellers, with Travellers. The thinking and actions around Traveller employment are too small minded, are not ambitious enough nationally and do not reflect a serious approach to supporting an indigenous ethnic minority group with an unemployment rate of 80%. Travellers report being fed up of being on a hamster wheel of consultations, short courses, training courses, or schemes with no meaningful outcomes for individuals or their families. Change is needed.
In our experience, the community is the best judge of what is successful and what changes are needed. If there is an opportunity to make money and have a better life for their families, we can say with authority that Travellers will take it. It is often reported that Travellers do not want to engage in the mainstream workforce, or that we do not want to engage in legitimate self-employment. We challenge this.
We have a waiting list of 38 people in our project who regularly contact us actively seeking employment. We also engage with several small business owners who are Travellers who advise us on leadership, business development and social enterprise.
With an unemployment rate of 80% nationally, while we do not have the county breakdown for Kerry, we know in the course of our work that there is a high unemployment level and poverty throughout the county. The largest employer of Travellers in the county is Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project. On the island of Ireland, we know that Traveller organisations are the largest employers of Travellers. For example, of the 972 Traveller women employed in Ireland in the 2016 census, 400 of them are employed as primary healthcare workers, with approximately 100 women employed as co-ordinators - women like myself - community development workers, education workers and Traveller workers within Traveller organisations.
Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project has a health action zone with five Traveller community health workers. We will recruit two more in 2020. This model of training, mentoring, supporting and employing Travellers to deliver services to Travellers is extremely successful. We are supported by the HSE community work department and the Traveller health unit. This funding is ring-fenced nationally and these positions are only available to Travellers, making this an affirmative action programme. This system demonstrates that Travellers in high numbers can be successfully employed if affirmative action programmes were developed across the public sector, the Civil Service and the NGO sector.
A small number of Traveller women in Kerry are employed in social care, home help, as personal assistants, cleaners and shop assistants. A number of Travellers in Kerry own their own business in the areas of market trading, construction, cleaning, catering and the beauty industry. We are highly innovative and resourceful people, very hard-working and with a great work ethic. There is a high value in sole trading and employment in the county. In the county, as happens in all communities, we have people who are doing very well financially and independent of the State and we have people who are experiencing great poverty. In a recent survey conducted by us on the mental health issues among Travellers in Kerry, two relevant findings were that, first, young men aged 17 to 30 are at a loss because of unemployment, leaving them vulnerable to mental health issues and addictions; and, second, poverty and inability to provide basic needs for one's family are cited as the third biggest stress after discrimination and lack of appropriate accommodation.
The factors that affect Traveller participation in the labour market are outlined in detail in our submission. I will name the headings and might give an example. A very basic one is institutional racism and commonplace discrimination that impacts on every Traveller in the country in the areas of health, accommodation, education, employment and social activities. Prejudices, stereotyping and negative generalisations among the general population cause widespread discrimination against us. That has a major impact on the labour market also.
The labour market in rural counties such as Kerry, and I am sure it is the same in Donegal being another isolated county, is very competitive. That puts us at the very end of the barrel. Many Travellers who work as nurses, teachers and solicitors in the county do not reveal their identity. To a degree, these people’s employment is secure once they are established in their roles. What is more precarious is the position of unskilled workers such as the cleaners, the people working in factories and shops or those with their own small businesses. They have to hide their identities and tolerate people talking about Travellers as if they are not in the room using the "K" word and making derogatory comments about Travellers. We have case after case, and I have outlined a number of examples in the submission, about people we are supporting who have experienced discrimination in the workplace. Sadly, most of those are young people who are very vulnerable and need support. On their entry into the workplace at work experience they are encountering deep discrimination. That mars their impression of the workforce for the rest of their lives.
The accounts of experiences of discrimination faced when trying to access the job market are too numerous to outline. That is a genuine comment.
Anyone of us here today could give members several examples in our own lives of our path here today. I will outline these because they are really important for educators, employers and anybody in positions of power. Three men in our county in the past two years wanted to do apprenticeships. One condition for being accepted on an apprenticeship programme is having a sponsor. The education provider was brilliant and used personal contacts to try to support the young men. Unfortunately, they could not find sponsors and, therefore, did not qualify for the apprenticeship scheme. None of these men progressed in education. The same thing happened to a young woman. Another example involved a self-employed man who was a fully qualified and experienced roofer and fully tax-compliant. He was asked to leave a job he was about to start. An off-duty Garda in the area went to the house owner and told the house owner that this man was a cowboy and "one of the boys" and would overcharge the householder and do substandard work. This self-employed man has no dealings whatsoever with An Garda Síochána and is a legitimate tradesman but had to leave the premises. There is a stereotype that Traveller tradesmen are con men who rob the elderly and are not legitimate businessmen so Traveller businessmen and businesswomen conceal their identities in large numbers.
There is a disproportionately lower level of attainment in education than in the majority population. Poor outcomes for Travellers over generations have had a devastating effect on their ability to compete in the jobs market based on an applicant's qualifications. Generations of Traveller children have experienced substandard segregated education. Investment in Traveller education is the 1990s saw improvements but cuts in 2009 saw a massive roll-back around that.