The bias the Senator has mentioned is an important issue. The Black Lives Matter movement has made it more acceptable to talk about racism, which is what we are talking about. We are talking about people being discriminated against but the State is not taking enough action. We warmly welcome the development of a new national action plan against racism, which is under way. It is key that the specific issues involved in anti-Traveller and anti-Roma racism are addressed in the plan and that the plan is not based on colour alone. While colour is important, ethnicity is equally as important in an Irish context. It is not about a hierarchy of oppression but about looking at the reality. I talked earlier about the 134 excess deaths per year. In our view, this is down to racism. With regard to the national action plan against racism, we welcome the active engagement of Traveller representatives on the steering committee. It is important that representatives of Traveller organisations are included in the mechanisms that are developed in respect of oversight and implementation of the plan. It is great to see because the previous action plan ran out in 2008. Despite our organisation and many UN bodies calling for it, the State has been slow to address the issue. We warmly welcome that.
As the Senator said, Dr. Mike Ryan talked last week about deep biases in the way systems work and that everybody needs to take responsibility, including politicians on local authorities, who can feed racist rhetoric that results in people not being given basic human rights in terms of a safe place to live. The Senator talked about the social determinants of health, mental health issues and their consequences. In that context, an interesting figure from the census is that 40% of Traveller households have more people than rooms compared to 6% of the majority population. It shows that Travellers are living in very overcrowded spaces and they have larger families and fewer rooms than the majority population. I am not saying that a room to yourself is the answer to dealing with mental health issues or anything else but, clearly, having space is very important, whether it is to do homework or feed a baby. All those broader social determinant issues need to be dealt with.
We have been looking for ethnic data from homeless services. Again, it is meant to be on the pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, but it is not disaggregated, collated or analysed and action is not based on it. We know from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage figures that in excess of 13% of Travellers are homeless, which would be more than 600,000 people, were that figure aggregated up for the majority population. Clearly, homelessness has a major impact on mental health, as Ms McDonnell said, particularly during the Covid pandemic.
As the Senator probably knows, since there are many Travellers in Ballinasloe, the extended family is very important to them, including the support they get from peers, parents, aunts, nieces and all of that, especially when a woman has a baby. Normally, when the woman comes home she is looked after and other women do the housework, help with the cooking and cleaning and let her take six weeks off, which is the minimum needed to look after herself and her baby. If someone is homeless, isolated and in substandard accommodation, that will clearly affect mental health because all the extended family support is missing.
Pavee Point is very clear about the social determinants of health. We have identified this in our work for the past 30 years, as we have for the right to health. Healthcare has to be accessible, affordable, available and appropriate. We know these things but, unfortunately, the State does not listen. We have a particular challenge with the Department of Health in terms of the lack of priority it gives to Traveller health and its refusal to convene the Traveller health advisory committee since 2012. The Department states it is all the responsibility of the HSE, whereas we say the Department is responsible for policy. We need to be in there at policy design stage in order that we can promote an intercultural approach and are not seen as awkward when a policy comes out and we state that it excludes Travellers. We are then seen as awkward and always complaining whereas if we were in there by design, we could anticipate some of the problems and that would, hopefully, build trust. We certainly saw that during the Covid pandemic when we worked hand in hand with the State and managed to get some very good initiatives. We hope that a joined-up Government approach, pooling of resources and responding to emergency needs will be a legacy of the pandemic.
Vulnerable members of the community were talked about. Throughout the pandemic we highlighted the fact that there were particularly vulnerable Travellers and Roma and the State worked with us on that. We need that to continue and we need the involvement of public health. The Senator talked about education. While there have been very important initiatives that we warmly welcome, and a new higher equity of access plan is being developed, getting a target in the last equity plan was what resulted in a real change in third-level access for Travellers. We saw the numbers increasing and they have gone up - Ms Kavanagh might have the figure - from a very low base that has been doubled in the last five-year plan, which is really good.
That is happening at third level but we need a comprehensive transformation of the education system. We need a national Traveller education strategy, which is committed to in the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. This has to happen so we can look at early years, primary, secondary and third level education. The ones who make it to third level are privileged but two thirds of Travellers have left school by 15 years of age. We need to get them earlier and we need to have the groundwork done in order that we can bring about a transformation in Travellers' education experience and outcomes. We need the ethnic data to be able to see what is happening.
We did training with St. Patrick's College a few years ago and some of the teachers there had returned from doing their teacher practice. We asked them for feedback on what the experience was like and one of them was appalled. She gave an example from a classroom she was in where the teacher asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. The children said nurses, doctors, fire fighters and so on. A Traveller child said he or she wanted to be a nurse but the teacher said "Oh, you're going to get married" and just skipped to the next person. What was that telling the Traveller child if teachers have such low expectations? I am not saying all teachers but unconscious bias-----