I thank the Cathaoirleach for choosing my Commencement matter and thank the Minister for Education and Skills for taking the time to come into the House to deal with it. I wish to ask him about the levels of educational attainment among Travellers and specifically what is in place to address the stark figures that have been published. I start by restating that the position for Travellers is dire when it comes to education and that action is urgently needed. The same applies to health, housing and employment. I wish to focus on education and employment.
Less than two weeks ago, on 12 October, the CSO released the 2016 census data for Travellers. Shockingly, they show that 60% of Travellers have received a primary education only. Just 13% of Traveller women and girls have been educated to upper second level or above compared with 69% of the general population. The figure that really stands out for me and which I feel is staggering is that 167 out of a total of 30,000 Travellers have a third level qualification. These statistics are intrinsically linked with the rate of employment among Travellers, of whom 80% are listed as unemployed. If one has not received or only received a primary education, if very few complete second level and only 167 have a third level qualification, it comes as little surprise that the rate of Traveller participation in the labour market is so low.
Findings by the ESRI show that Traveller participation in the labour market increases sharply as levels of educational attainment increases, rising from 9% among those with only a primary education to 57% among those with a further or higher education. In the Behaviour & Attitudes Traveller community national survey recently published, 85% of Travellers stated that unemployment among Travellers has got a lot worse or no better over the past five years. This is very disappointing, particularly because when the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton was in his previous role, the creation of jobs in Ireland was a great success story. It is a real pity that many in this particular group of people, because of poor education, are also unemployed.
Education is key to improving the employment and life outcomes for the Traveller population and I want to know what measures the Minister is working on or what new measures he will introduce to increase Traveller participation. The State's track record on this issue is very poor. As the Minister will be aware, in 2011 all addition educational supports aimed at Travellers specifically were eliminated. The Travelling with Austerity report shows us that State spending on Traveller education fell by 86% between 2008 and 2013. This should be compared to the overall reduction in Government spending of 4.3% over the same period. I struggle to think of any other section of society that has suffered such a high level of withdrawal of resources. It is a stain on the record of the previous Administration. The cuts included abolishing the visiting teachers for Travellers posts, additional resource teachers and resource hours for Traveller children and closing specialised training centres for teenage and adult Travellers.
The 1995 Report of the Task Force on The Travelling Community acknowledged that few initiatives in the area of Traveller education have been as successful as the appointment of visiting teachers, a scheme that was introduced in the bleak 1980s. These visiting teachers worked across the generations, from adults to toddlers. They had a range of roles, from providing support to encouraging attendance, acting as an advocate and ensuring progress from primary to secondary and beyond. We need new initiatives similar to this to support the Traveller community through education. Some 60% of Travellers are aged under 25. The time for action to help these young Travellers is now.
What are the current measures in place and can the Minister give an update on the education points included in the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, which was published in July? The strategy includes very specific education orientated actions. In light of the CSO findings that the educational attainment among Travellers continues to lag very significantly behind that of the general population, I want to know what the Minister is doing now and any new measures he might propose.