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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Jul 2018

Vol. 259 No. 9

Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time with Senator Alice-Mary Higgins.

I thank Senator Kelleher for allowing me to be a part of this important legislation and I commend the Traveller community and the Irish Traveller movement for their work and activism in this area. I am honoured to support this legislation and I am encouraged by the broad support for it in the House.

After hours of thinking about what I wanted to say and how to phrase how important I think the Bill is, I came to the realisation that I was finding it difficult because, while I can speak about my own experience of stigma, social class, barriers in education, experience of deprivation and so on, it must be said that no matter how difficult what I have experienced has been, my Traveller friends have experienced so much more. The expectation and aspiration that I could have gone on to do my leaving certificate was very much there for me but it was not for my Traveller friends. I remember starting first year and noticing the Travellers in my classroom in primary school had not arrived for their first day of secondary school. I remember the first time my friend invited me into his home. I had known him for ten years but I heard him as a young Traveller man for the very first time that day. We were only kids and I asked him why he did not talk like the rest of his family when we were out on the street. His reply was, “I will get only slagged, Lynn." Imagine spending your day with your settled peers, having to master their use of language and their accent, and suppressing your own identity to avoid comment or jeering from friends.

History and culture was very important in the 19th century to progressing the cause of identity and self-determination. When a people’s culture and history is validated and supported at State level, it will create a more inclusive Ireland. More importantly, it will give the Traveller community a sense of belonging to the State, and the State will be displaying ownership of all its people and cultures. Traveller history and culture is Irish history and culture; it is part of the multicultural history of Ireland. It will not only benefit the Traveller community but the majority of the settled community just as much. It will allow for a far more open discourse in the coming decade on what it is to be Irish in a continuously changing society. Imagine if my friend could have expressed his identity, history and culture, and that we, as a State, supported and validated who he was throughout his life. Imagine that we, as a State, had not imposed the stigma and marginalisation that we did in past oppressive policies.

Over the last week or so, after conversations with friends and organisations in the Traveller community, a similar theme came through in what they all said. Travellers in school are made to feel ashamed of their identity. This happened without any of us actually taking the time to know what their history and culture is, or what it means to be a Traveller. We have stigmatised and shamed the Traveller community out of ignorance and in an effort to force them to be us - to be settled - as if we were somehow superior. Just as Thomas McCann said last week at the launch of the cross-party Oireachtas group on Travellers, the 1963 Government report from the Commission on Itinerancy described Travellers as “problems” for which there would be “no final solution.” Ultimately, this State considered Travellers as failed settled people. We must undo this. We can begin by educating all of the generations to come on Traveller history and culture. Education, awareness and acceptance are at the foundation of ending discrimination. I believe the onus is on the State to be front and centre of ending that discrimination. It was largely a State-imposed discrimination dating back over several decades.

There is an absolute need to develop tools to include the history of Traveller culture in all parts of the primary and secondary syllabus. We would look to include it in the CSPE programme but we can also look at social geography. Nomadism should be included as a definition with reference to other indigenous peoples. In the social and scientific area, the definition of family should be expanded to include the model of extended family. Traveller music from musicians such as Johnny Doherty and Paddy Keenan should be included in the curriculum. Regarding art, curriculum projects should include Traveller artistic contributions as one of the options alongside still life, for example. In short, Traveller culture should be throughout the curriculum at all stages of education, not solely as a once-off module in a once a year class.

This is one phase of addressing the inequality and discrimination for Travellers but we must be aware of the fact that we have much to do in regard to resources and accommodation. Recognition of ethnicity does not magically bring Travellers up to a place of equality with the rest of society. It does not erase the harm we have done to their community and their lives. Some of the ways in which education can be a tool to achieve this are as follows: culturally appropriate primary school programmes; Traveller resource teachers to be reinstated; Traveller special needs assistants and teachers to be employed; Traveller home liaison supports; specific training projects for young Traveller men; and Traveller organisations to be resourced to develop a national network committed to supporting Traveller men.

To conclude, we must ensure an inclusive and culturally respectful education system is available to all and it is imperative that the education sector meets that need. This includes mandatory diversity awareness training for all educators and investment in culturally appropriate learning environments. In addition, culturally appropriate learning materials must be developed for all sectors of the education system. I truly regret that I spent my school years oblivious to the harm being inflicted on the Traveller community and on my Traveller friends. I hope this Bill can start to change that for Traveller children in generations to come.

I am very happy to be a member of the Oireachtas Traveller group alongside Senator Kelleher. I commend her for initiating that group and also for this Bill, which is very important. As others have described, the policy of the State for far too long, and made very explicit in the 1963 policies, was a policy of absorption and assimilation - of effectively disappearing Travellers and their contribution and history within the State. For far too long, many Travellers who have attempted to navigate the education system, which has at times been openly hostile, have felt they had to choose between prejudice or invisibility, a tension which nobody should be asked to face, rather than having the opportunity to be recognised, celebrated and supported in the fullness of their identity.

That invisibility has also done damage to the wider community and has made our history incomplete. When we talk about our history and culture in Ireland, Travellers and the Traveller community have made a huge contribution and are part of that history and culture, part of the fabric of what has made us. In our recent commemorations, we have been looking at how we mark history and looking, for example, at the contribution of women in shaping our State and ensuring that is written in. This is not simply important for women; it is important for us to really understand who we are as a nation and all of the facets of that. If we look at a particular area of culture such as music, at times when elements of Irish culture and music were banned and under pressure, and when we had gaps over centuries, it was Traveller culture that kept alive much of Ireland's musical tradition.

However, when these aspects of our culture re-enter the mainstream, the contribution and work of many Travellers, whether the Doran family or the Dunne family, can be lost. Travellers have contributed not only to our national culture and history but also to Ireland's international connections. I have in mind, for example, the travels of Pecker Dunne in Australia and the connections he made at that time. I applaud the University of Limerick, which has done great work to highlight Traveller culture.

This is a chance to ensure our education system truly reflects and supports all who participate in it. It is important for the rights of the child and of indigenous persons, which are enshrined as UN principles, and for having a good education system for everyone. We should look to the role of history across all aspects of our education system, although I recognise this Bill seeks to ensure these issues are reflected in many strands.

As I stated previously in the House, the former National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism sought to work across all Departments to ensure we turn these principles and high-level statements on ethnicity into real action. I would like this Bill to be an opportunity to reignite a positive constructive questioning across all Departments about how we can do better to integrate and recognise the Traveller contribution across society.

In recognising culture and history, we empower the next generation of young Travellers in our education system to take ownership and be proud of their culture and to shape its future because it is an evolving and changing thing. That is important to recognise.

I welcome the Minister to the House and commend Senator Kelleher on her excellent Bill. The approach encapsulated in this draft legislation is very good and we should adopt it. The education system in Ireland operates, or at least should operate, on an inclusive basis in keeping with our obligations under the Constitution and national and international law. An ESRI report from 2017 entitled "A Social Portrait of Travellers in Ireland" was commissioned by the Department of Justice and Equality drawing largely on data from the census of 2011. The report highlighted the lower levels of educational attainment among Travellers and the unsurprising fact that greater chances of gaining employment are associated with higher educational attainment levels. The report also references the withdrawal of educational supports following the austerity budget in 2011.

While Traveller children are more likely to attend a Developing Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, school than non-Travellers, and thus avail of additional supports in these schools, the report references that not all Travellers attend DEIS schools. In particular, it states that mainstreaming without specific intervention for Travellers may result in Traveller needs not being met. It is intended the learning from the ongoing cross-sectional pilot, which was proposed under the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy and led by TUSLA, will address some of these issues. I am interested in hearing the Minister's comments on the pilot.

In accordance with the Government policy of inclusion, the policy on Traveller education is that Traveller children attend mainstream schools with previously segregated provision now funded as part of the mainstream system. A number of Traveller-specific supports remain in the system to assist with the transition to the mainstream system of pupils previously provided for in segregated provision. These comprise 141 alleviation resource teacher posts for schools with significant numbers of Travellers at a current cost €8.46 million, additional pupil capitation for Travellers at a rate of €70 per pupil for primary and €201 per pupil for post-primary at a current cost of €1.11 million. In 2016 and 2017, there were 7,901 pupils in mainstream primary schools who identified as members of the Traveller community.

The Minister will no doubt go into more detail about the DEIS plan which in 2017 recognised that engagement of Travellers and Roma in education is a continuing challenge. Aspects of Traveller and Roma culture, together with past experiences of some parents and grandparents with education, can give rise to difficulties with school attendance, participation and retention. It is important existing good practice and innovation in schools and ancillary support services are harnessed to improve the education experience of Traveller children in school. The legislation encapsulates much of that.

I support this very important legislation to which I am hopeful of a positive response from the Minister.

In welcoming the Minister to the House, I acknowledge and welcome Senator Kelleher's Bill. The Senator should not have to introduce legislation to have the proposed measure implemented. It should already be in place as a structure for doing so is in place in the education system. If the Minister and his officials were so inclined, they could issue a directive requiring that this subject be on the curriculum of primary and post-primary schools from September onwards. I encourage him to do so. This Bill will become law. I very much support it and I hope, in the interests of justice, fairness, equality of opportunity and equality in general, that the Government will also support it and allow it to pass in both Houses. Once passed in this House, it should swiftly move to the Dáil and become law.

We should educate mainstream - if one can call them that - settled children on the culture of Travellers in any case. We have a responsibility to do that because Travellers are a recognised ethnic group in this community. The former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, to his eternal credit, ensured before he left office that Traveller ethnicity was recognised by the Government. That decision changes the landscape completely. We have now recognised Travellers as an ethnic group, which brings with it responsibilities to educate our young people about the diversity, uniqueness and rich culture of one of our traditional ethnic groups. It is a priority that this should become part of the educational curriculum.

I take the Bill as read because it will be passed, and rightly so. Senator Kelleher has championed these issues since she came into these Houses, and with great success. Education within the Traveller community has not received sufficient resources. Schools trying to provide equal opportunity and access to education to Travellers need to be provided with the supports to do so. The one way we see members of the Travelling community get out of poverty and get opportunities is by giving them as much access as possible to education. It has been proved time and again that Travellers who have benefited from education have gone on to make an enormous contribution to this country and its culture and identity. The more members of the Travelling community who have access to education, the more their abilities will be brought to the fore and they will be able to make an even greater contribution to society. That percolates through all minority groups, but particularly Travellers. The number of Travellers who go on to third level is very small.

I do not have the figures but I know it is very small, which should not be the case. The figure should be much higher. I know quite a few Travellers and they are extremely intelligent people with a huge amount to offer. If they had opportunities they could have developed their skills to a very high level. We are only at the start of fulfilling our responsibilities towards the Traveller community. The Bill is an important incremental step in the right direction and I sincerely hope it will be supported.

I welcome the Minister for Education, Deputy Bruton, back to the House this afternoon. I congratulate and commend Senator Colette Kelleher on bringing this Bill forward and everyone else who fed into the process.

Fianna Fáil believes that Traveller culture should be an integral part of an intercultural curriculum and should be represented positively in each school. For far too long nothing has happened to make this a reality. In the wake of the 2017 recognition of Traveller ethnicity it is even more important that it be put on the curriculum.

Last year's recognition of Traveller ethnicity must now be matched by action. It is critical to ensure that the aspirations and ambitions of the Traveller community for the younger generations be realised in order that they can fully participate in society without discrimination or exclusion and with meaningful participation in employment, education and health and all other aspects of services and cultures in the State.

Travellers have been a major and unique part of our history. They are a significant, diverse and cherished element of wider Irish culture and society. There has, however, been an unavoidable history of misunderstanding and suspicion and - for far too often - a strained relationship between the rest of society and the ethnic community. When debating Traveller issues, it is an unfortunate truth that the most compelling inclination has been to debate the Traveller community in the context of strategy or as a challenge to society at large. It is imperative that we display respect for cultural difference within our overall identity, and understand that recognising the distinct ethnic identities of Irish people strengthens rather than undermines Irishness. In that context, Traveller culture and history should be part of the curriculum. Placing it on the curriculum would be a further positive recognition and would show that we know and appreciate that Travellers constitute a unique ethnic group in society. It would help by giving the Traveller community greater confidence and security and would be a very positive step in the right direction.

We need to foster conditions conducive to pluralism in society. We need to raise children's awareness of their culture and attune them to the fact that there are other ways of behaving and other value systems. We need them to develop respect for lifestyles that are different from their own so that children can understand and appreciate each other better. We need to foster a commitment to equality and enable children to make informed choices and take action on issues of prejudice and discrimination. We need to appreciate and value similarities and differences. We also need to enable all children to speak for themselves and articulate that they are the creators of their own destinies. Ultimately, we are trying to ensure that all children are treated equally and can achieve in life whatever they want to achieve.

I note Senator Martin Conway's contribution. I look forward to the Minister's response to the Senator's comment that while it is important to put this legislation on the Statute Book, a direction from the Minister and his Department to schools could result in immediate action being taken on the matter.

I congratulate Senator Kelleher on her great and continued work in this area. I welcome those in the Public Gallery today and I acknowledge their input into this process. Bualadh bos to all concerned.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the members of the Traveller community who have come to the House today to watch this important debate. Senator Kelleher asked me to support her legislation and I have indicated I will support it.

Hardly a word has been spoken in this debate thus far with which I do not agree, but there are points I want to personally emphasise. Travellers are not the challenge; the challenge is the statistics given about dropout rates, suicide rates, marginalisation, economic exclusion and so on. The figures portray an exclusion and a sense of being an outsider and to some extent a determination on the part of the settled community to keep Travellers in an outsider status. This is undesirable, wrong, unfair, unrepublican and unpatriotic and we have to work to deal with it.

Not everything centres on education but a decent education is an absolute prerequisite to economic, social and citizen equality in any republic. From that perspective, the dropout rate of Travellers from the education system, whereas it may have economic and cultural explanations, is nonetheless a challenge in itself. It must be the case that the educational curriculum, not merely in schools Traveller children attend and in which they receive an education but also in schools where Traveller children are not present, should emphasise that every citizen of Ireland is to be valued and should not be ashamed of his or her economic, social, cultural or ethnic identity. Every school in Ireland should have these values as the ethical cornerstones of the moral education of children. More important than that proposition, as Senator Kelleher emphasised, is that a Traveller child entering a school should see it as a place into which he or she enters, not as some kind of privilege or concession, but as of right. This is not a bare legal right but a moral right to receive education in a manner that receives and understands and is a warm place to them.

Having said those few words, I commend Senators Kelleher, Ruane and Grace O'Sullivan for bringing forward the legislation. Some speakers have noted that a legislative basis may not be necessary for the required action to transform our curriculum and to ensure this curricular transformation takes place. The very fact that these actions have not been taken for many years suggests that this is not simply a legislative gesture, but seems to be a legislative necessity. It also seems to be the case that those who have failed in the past to transform education to make it Traveller friendly and Traveller appreciative in the way this Bill intends includes an entire political generation. I include myself in that and I do not pretend otherwise. Those in the past who failed to advance the particular aims set out in this legislation need to have the duty cast in a very clear way that does not admit any further delay, prevarication or time-serving as regards this equality measure.

Having made those points, wished the proposers of the Bill every success in its passage and come to the view that there are no obstacles to its passage into law, I urge the Minister to accept the Bill, the reasoning for it and the opportunity it offers the State to make a real and significant difference to the experience of the Traveller community in the educational process. It would also make a significant difference in terms of the education of the settled community on the reality of the life, attitudes and culture of the Traveller community and the discrimination it has faced. I warmly support the Bill.

I commend Senator Kelleher and the Senators who supported her in bringing forward this timely and very important Bill. On 10 October 2015, in awful circumstances, ten members of the Traveller community lost their lives in a fire. Five of them were children. Soon thereafter, I looked at a report on the events published on the news website. Below the article were several comments such as "rest in peace". Hundreds of citizens of this State gave those comments a thumbs down and disagreed with comments expressing the wish that five children and five adults who were burned to death in the most appalling circumstances would rest in peace. That attitude is evil. It is a serious problem and we have ignored it for too long.

All those in the Chamber and listening to the debate have heard phrases such as "dirty knacker" and "dirty tinker" used in polite society. None of us could deny that. I was once at a GAA match and, after a tackle was made by a defender, a woman behind me screamed at the player "You dirty knacker. You dirty tinker." I turned and saw that she was the type of woman who one would assume is an upstanding citizen involved in her GAA club and a decent person in every way except in the attitude displayed by her words. How did our society reach this stage? Such attitudes are evil and racist. From where do they come?

The briefing given by Senator Kelleher draws our attention to the work of the psychologist, William Ryan, who in the 1970s wrote a book entitled Blaming the Victim. The briefing outlines that the book addresses the situation whereby members of a dominant community see features of the social life of a marginalised community that are the result of poverty and marginalisation as essential features of that community's culture and use that observation to justify racist attitudes that cause the cycle of poverty, exclusion and marginalisation to be perpetuated. I could not have put it better myself. From where has this come? What does it say about our society that the woman behind me who I am sure is quite decent in every other respect said something like that in front of children and others around her?

The roots of this issue go very deep but I will point to the role of the Commission on Itinerancy in 1963. When the justice committee of the previous Oireachtas tasked itself with looking at the issue of Traveller ethnicity, it brought in a range of witnesses. I was the rapporteur for the report. I am proud to say that we recommended on an all-party basis that the State recognise the ethnicity of the Traveller community. However, we were deeply shocked when we examined the Commission on Itinerancy. No Travellers were on the commission or participated in its work. It was about Travellers but they did not have any say. The terms of reference decided upon in 1960 were to inquire into the problem arising from the presence in the country of itinerants in considerable numbers, to examine the economic, educational, health and social problems inherent in their way of life, to promote their absorption into the general community and, pending such absorption, to reduce to a minimum the disadvantage to themselves and the community resulting from their itinerant habits. It goes on to state that itinerants, or Travellers, as they prefer to be called, do not constitute a single homogenous group. It denied Travellers their ethnicity, history and culture without any academic, anthropological or sociological evidence for so doing. That is at the root of where we are today and why the Bill is so important.

We must reverse the attitude engendered by the Commission on Itinerancy. We must teach our children that our Traveller community, similar to native Americans, Maoris and Aborigines, were indigenous to this land and continued with nomadic ways while the majority of our people settled and decided they wished to have a roof over their heads and live in one place. The majority rejected the old ways and rejected people who continued with the old ways to such a degree that that report was written in 1963. The report has been consigned to history by the recognition of Traveller ethnicity last year but we cannot stop at that. The declaration by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, on that famous day last year means nothing unless we bring in legislation such as that proposed by Senator Kelleher. I cannot overstate how vital it is. There is no point discussing Traveller health, mental health and education until we value the Traveller community and its contribution to our history.

My mother was born on the side of a road in 1951, the child of Traveller parents who went on a journey to move away from their roots. While I was a child, my grandmother, who I loved dearly, tried to move away from her Traveller background and settle, like so many other Travellers, because it was so difficult to live in that community. It is wrong that she and so many other Travellers felt under such pressure. I owe it to my grandmother who was nearly forced to deny her past in order to be accepted in society and to make a better life for me and her daughter, my mother, to tell her story. Travellers watching these proceedings owe it to those who came before them to tell their story and of the injustice they faced. We must be honest and tell those stories in our schools because the only way we can learn from the mistakes of the past is to accept that they were mistakes and move on from them. We will never turn around the fortunes of the Traveller community until we say it is valued and that its contribution to our country is immense, core and central. Its music and nomadic ways are part of who we were and who Travellers are and will continue to be with our support and love. That is the only way to stop hundreds of people from going onto a news website and giving a thumbs down to a message hoping that five children burned to death will rest in peace.

I call Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Does she wish to share time?

I wish to share time with Senator John Dolan.

I am spokesperson for the Technical Group and thought I would be next. However, I am happy to give way to Senator Grace O'Sullivan.

My apologies. I call Senator Bacik.

My apologies to the Acting Chair. I was unsure of the order of speakers. It will be very hard to follow the speech of Senator Mac Lochlainn. I commend him on his very strong and eloquent language in support of this important Bill. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Bruton, to the House and offer apologies on behalf of my colleague, Senator Ó Ríordáin, who cannot be here but asked me to express the strong support of the Labour Party for the Bill. I commend Senators Kelleher and Ruane and their colleagues on putting forward this important Bill which I am most pleased to support. I warmly welcome the groups and individuals in the Gallery to watch the debate, including my colleague, Dr. Ronan McCrea, who is an expert in equality law.

I view this Bill as part of a process by which we have come to assert a stronger recognition of Traveller rights and culture. Senator Mac Lochlainn has played a huge role in this. He was a colleague of mine on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality when we produced an important report on the recognition of Traveller ethnicity. All colleagues who served on that committee will recall the expert evidence given to the committee was very clear that legislation was not necessary in order to ensure the State would recognise Traveller ethnicity. That report led ultimately to the historic declaration by the then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in March 2017, to which Senator Kelleher and others referred. That very important historic declaration of recognition of ethnicity has paved the way for initiatives such as this Bill. I see this Bill as a measure which would give practical effect to the spirit behind that declaration of ethnicity. Clearly, there are many more steps that need to be taken, and others referred to the continuing and most distressing anti-Traveller attitudes we are seeing in many areas. We know that more needs to be done in the promotion of better healthcare measures, including mental healthcare measures, for Travellers.

I also listened, with interest, to the words of Senator Conway. I hope the Minister will support the Bill, as Senator Conway has indicated his support for it. The Senator also pointed out it may not be necessary to enact legislation in order to make a change to the curriculum in our schools to ensure children will be taught about Traveller culture and history. I would hope we might see such a step being taken. It might well need statutory underpinning and it is important it would have that to ensure it would be rolled out across all schools. It would be good to see immediate steps being taken to ensure the curriculum would include reference to Traveller culture and history. This is vital not only for children from the Traveller community but for all our children. Senator Kelleher eloquently spoke about that. This is a way of enriching our education system much more generally. This would broaden the cultural and historical education of Irish students. She pointed to the initiative of Black History Month as the way in which an initiative of this type can enrich education more generally.

We are also indebted to Senator Kelleher for providing us with a legal opinion in support of the legislation from James Kane in the Law Library. He rightly points out that Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides for the rights of children belonging to a minority or who are indigenous not to be denied the right to enjoy their own culture and so on. That is an important right relating to children from ethnic minorities such as the Traveller community but there is also the broader statement of the rights of children to receive a more inclusive education. That is well stated by the European Court of Human Rights in the Orsus v. Croatia case, where the court observed the emerging international consensus among member states of the Council of Europe, recognising the special needs of minorities and an obligation to protect their security, identity and lifestyle, not only for the purpose of safeguarding the interests of the minorities but to preserve a cultural diversity of value to the whole community. That is a very important point to emphasise, namely, that in a Bill of this nature the Minister would prescribe that Traveller culture and history would be taught in recognised schools and he would prescribe the content of the syllabus to be taught in that regard. This is important to enrich our education system as a whole in order to preserve the cultural diversity that is of value to our entire community. That is very important and it is the type of measure that will change the dreadful attitudes, to which Senator Mac Lochlainn referred. It is a very important practical step.

Within the Oireachtas this year, we have taken some very important steps with the Vótáil 100 committee, of which I am proud to be chair, to ensure that our school children are being taught more about the history of women's rights and of equality for women in Ireland and Irish society. We saw in this Chamber in April a group of wonderful transition year students debating the impact of women achieving the right to vote, as we mark the centenary of women's suffrage through our Díospóireacht na nÓg. That shows how changing the curriculum, ensuring that children receive education about the winning of rights and the gaining of equality in Irish society, can enrich children's educational experience generally. This Bill is an important measure in that vein. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am very happy to support it.

I apologise to the Senator again. I had not fully informed myself of the make-up of the Technical Group.

The next speaker is Senator Grace O'Sullivan who, I understand, wants to share her time with Senator Dolan.

Is that agreed? Agreed. There are eight minutes in the time slot.

I welcome the Minister and the members of the Traveller community and the settled community who are in the Gallery. This Bill is a no-brainer. I am delighted to have been invited to be a co-signatory of the Bill by Senator Kelleher, and I am very proud of that. The Bill advocates a simple and sensible change which will help not only to improve the level of knowledge of our future citizens but to shine a light on a neglected and often misunderstood community which is an integral part of our Irish society. I commend Senator Mac Lochlainn on his contribution to this debate.

We cannot live up to our proud claim to cherish all the children equally if we turn our backs on this important yet modest legislation. I would hope it will be put into force, sooner rather than later, by the Department of Education and Skills with the full support of the Government. For too long Traveller culture, the living, breathing and evolving culture of Ireland's largest minority ethnic group, has been ignored. We heard this morning from Catherine Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement who illustrated this point in detail in her briefing on the importance of this Bill. That ignorance has resulted not only in members of the Traveller community experiencing exclusion and racism on a daily basis but has allowed a wider acceptance of misunderstandings and ignorance prevail. The role of the community in protecting and transmitting our cultural history, for example, is not known to most Irish people. Many aspects of our musical heritage, as just one example, would not have survived through to contemporary times without the nurturing and sheltering given by the Traveller community. Have they received acknowledgement for this? No, I believe they have not.

As we heard from Thomas McCann, the manager of the Traveller Counselling Service, who is in the Gallery today, this Bill is about human rights. It is about inclusivity and an intercultural approach to learning and knowledge. It is about recognition of the contributions made by the Traveller community and the importance that recognising such contributions can have in informing the rest of Irish society's views. It is about enhancing the cultural education of all our children. They will all benefit from a wider understanding of the colourful array of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds and the human diversity that will make us stronger as a nation.

I welcome the Minister yet again to the House. I particularly welcome all those in the Gallery. I will start by reading a poem Checking Out Me History by John Agard, which might be appropriate for a number of reasons. It reads:

Dem tell me

Dem tell me

Wha dem want to tell me

Bandage up me eye with me own history

Blind me to me own identity

Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat

Dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat

But Toussaint L’Ouverture

No dem never tell me bout dat


A slave

With vision

Lick back [the French]

[Lick back] Napoleon


And first Black

Republic born

Toussaint de thorn

To de French

Toussaint de beacon

Of de Haitian Revolution

Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon

And de cow who jump over de moon

Dem tell me bout de dish ran away with de spoon

But dem never tell me bout Nanny de maroon


See-far woman

Of mountain dream

Fire-woman struggle

Hopeful stream

To freedom river

Dem tell me bout Lord Nelson and Waterloo

But dem never tell me bout Shaka de great Zulu

Dem tell me bout Columbus and 1492

But what happen to de Caribs and de Arawaks too

Dem tell me bout Florence Nightingale and she lamp

and how Robin Hood used to camp

Dem tell me bout ole King Cole was a merry ole soul

but dem never tell me bout Mary Seacole

From Jamaica

She travel far

To the Crimean War

She volunteer to go

And even when de British said no

She still brave the Russian snow

A healing star

Among the wounded

A yellow sunrise

To the dying

Dem tell me

Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me

But now I checking out me own history

I carving out me identity

Mr. John Agard authored that poem. He was born in British Guyana of a Creole mother and a Scottish British army officer. It struck me as highlighting the importance of a dominant, sitting culture giving space to another culture.

Mr. Johnny Doran died in 1953 when a wall fell on his caravan on North King Street. He was a magnificent player of the fiddle. Many of us would have heard of Ms Margaret Barry or, if not her name, then recordings of her street singing.

I do not want to say much more other than to point out that we have the ball at our toe as the dominant culture. We have to learn to share and to use our two ears to listen and embrace. Senator McDowell made a point about the school needing to be a welcoming and warm place for everyone. In a republic, the school presents a great opportunity for everyone starting out. It is magnificent. I often give credit to recent Governments for what they have done for young pupils with disabilities.

I have known Travellers with disabilities. Listening to Senator Mac Lochlainn, I was reminded of one or two who found that they had to deny their own families. A wound was done to them. One person from the Traveller community, who has since become an important person - actually, I should not say that, as no one is more important than another, so I should instead say "well known and respected person" - was not allowed to have her family visit her in a particular institution. That was within the past 40 years. There is an ingrained problem. Legislation should not be necessary, but it has to be used in such circumstances.

I am happy to support this Bill and commend Senator Kelleher on what she has done.

I welcome the opportunity for this important debate. I will not oppose the legislation.

The decision by the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, in 2017 to recognise the ethnicity of the Traveller community was a significant milestone. We in government and the Oireachtas must see that the vision underpinning it is realised. This legislation is proposed very much in that spirit.

I draw Senators' attention to the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, which is being implemented by the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. It contains 149 actions across ten distinctive themes, including education. Some of them are worth recalling, given that they are works in progress. For example, action No. 4 calls for "collaboration with Traveller and Roma organisations to develop education resources on Traveller and Roma culture and history for use in primary, post primary and adult education settings." Under action No. 10, it commits to "early intervention education welfare supports to promote and support Traveller and Roma attendance, participation and engagement with the education system and retention to the Leaving Certificate or equivalent." Under action No. 16, my Department will "review policy on admissions to school in line with the Programme for Government" to take account of possible discrimination in admission policies. Under action No. 17, it commits to implementing "community-based supports to assist retention of Traveller and Roma children in the education system." While not in any way denigrating the legislation before us, 149 actions across ten realms of government are being implemented. It is important that we deliver them and ensure that the work being co-ordinated by the Minister of State has the full support of the Oireachtas. There must also be pressure from the Oireachtas to ensure that we deliver on these actions in a timely manner.

Given that it is a view expressed by every Senator in the context of this debate, it does not need repeating that there is scope and a need for major improvement in education. Thankfully, we are in a post-crash Ireland and have created a solid foundation on which to plan for the future. We are doing so, taking ten-year perspectives across a range of important infrastructural and social needs. This issue equally needs that long-term approach.

The Bill deals mainly with the curriculum. I examined the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, guidelines for primary and post-primary schools. They date back to 2005 or 2006, so they are old, but they also give us insight into the nature of the problems we are trying to address, as they discuss how indirect discrimination can arise in a range of areas, including entry criteria and the way in which schools develop their service provision, policies and approaches, which can act as barriers. Also covered are the lack of professional expertise within the school to deal with some of the challenges of inclusion, the lack of systematic data gathering on the impact of policies on minority groups, and the lack of workable facilities for consultation with and listening to minority groups, be they parents or students.

One of the lessons that has to be recognised is that this issue is deep-seated. It is not just a question of writing legislation and, hey presto, the issue being solved. Legislation may hold an important role, but a great deal of work will be needed to build the underpinning and foundation for systematic change.

To be fair to my Department and the authors of the inclusion strategy, a number of important vehicles are in development or already in place. Last night, the Dáil passed the Education (Admission to Schools) Bill 2016, which outlaws for the first time discrimination. Every admission policy of every school in the country will have to have written into it a policy of no discrimination on any ground, including on grounds of being from the Traveller or Roma ethnic group. The legislation also does away with waiting lists, which have been a way for communities to create a barrier against those who are not in stable environments, meaning they could have been on lists for a long time. It gives Tusla the power to require a school to take children where the school might not otherwise do so. The Bill is an important vehicle and it was crucial that we got support.

Also in development is a parents and students charter, which has been accepted by the Oireachtas committee. It embraces students and parents as key players who need to be listened to, which is an area in which we have perceived weaknesses.

We have a well-being programme which is being rolled out at junior cycle but which will also become a policy of every school when we publish a well-being policy statement very shortly. It deals very explicitly with some of the issues that have been addressed here, such as the resilience of students, their capacity to integrate, the way in which anti-bullying policies are rolled out, and the relationships that teachers build with individual students so that they have the confidence to stay within the school. As Senator McDowell described it, school should be a warm place to be for any student, regardless of their background. That is at the heart of what the well-being strategy is about, and there will be very detailed implementation to ensure that we support children, particularly children who are at risk of dropping out.

The other thing that is worth bearing in mind is that over recent years, and it predates my time, the Department has moved away from the policies of separate arrangements, like visiting teachers and segregated approaches, and I believe it has done this with general support from the broader community, the Traveller community and the wider education bodies. Segregation is not the way to deal with this. We need to have integration. If integration is to succeed, we need to have much better approaches than we have in place. Senator Kelleher referred to the numbers, and I was looking at the ESRI report which bears out the numbers for people who have left. They are 2011 data and it is people over the age of 25 back in 2011, so it is somewhat old in terms of the data. They show the remarkable and dramatic differences in the experience of people who have left school, both Travellers and non-Travellers. Those who have left school early with only primary education or less make up 78% among the Traveller community and 10% among the settled community. Even now, the numbers in the national strategy show that the percentages completing second level are 13% versus 92%, which are the current data. For those going to third level, the percentages are 1% among the Traveller community versus 66% among the wider community. We have a huge gulf to make up.

Looking at some of the material that has been in place, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, guidelines are good and they address many of the issues, but we have 4,000 different schools. The big question is to what extent schools are implementing these policies. There are some good resources available that can enliven the curriculum and make sure that it recognises the Traveller contribution to our culture and way of life. There are some excellent practices where schools are very good at doing this, there are some excellent teachers, and indeed there are some good networks for sharing good practice. The overall picture, however, would be one of this not being sufficiently prevalent across the education system generally.

I intend, on foot of this legislation, to get the NCCA to audit the whole realm of this, not just the curricular content but the quality of teaching and resources and the extent to which it is being implemented. We need to identify the weaknesses in the curricular content. We need to identify the weaknesses in what the jargon in the Department describes as CPD, continuing professional development, which is the upskilling of teachers to teach in this area. We need to ensure that our inspectorate, which is ultimately the way in which we implement quality control across the system, and not always through the traditional cigire with the red pencil saying one is wrong but supporting good practice as well as correcting poor, is very alive to the need to ensure good practice in this area.

We also need to develop much more local innovation. Integration is the right approach to take but it will only succeed if we have tailored interventions to support Traveller children. I know that, across the three Departments, predominantly Justice and Equality, Children and Youth Affairs and ourselves, a pilot scheme is being developed which I understand will go live this coming school year. It is designed to look at how we strengthen the support for children from the Traveller community attending and staying in school. It will not only have the normal interventions of the home school community liaison but will also work with the Traveller community itself and with schools. It will be tested in pilot areas to see how we shift the practice in schools on the ground, because we need to shift practice as well as pass legislation at this level.

We could pass legislation of this nature and nothing would change. We all know that. Such legislation has been passed. If it is not supported by the sort of work that I am going to put in place in terms of the audit, the identification of weaknesses, the piloting and, following that, the mainstreaming of interventions that can correct this, we will not succeed.

The other dimension of this, and Senators have referred to this, is that it is not just about ensuring that schools are more welcoming and that we get better school attendance, but about shifting the understanding of the Traveller community within the wider community. We need to ensure that people are welcomed on a broader base, and education is a place where that can happen. That shows the importance of Senator Kelleher's ideas of having content within our curriculum that embraces the Traveller community. We need to have that developed and used. There are many opportunities for doing that and doing it better.

The one quibble I would have with the legislation, and it was picked up in Senator Conway's comment, is that curriculum in Ireland is not developed by the Minister making a fiat that, as and from tomorrow, this is the way curriculum is going to be taught. For many good reasons, we have developed a stakeholder approach, led by the NCCA, which works with others to ensure that the curriculum is developed in a way that is implemented, embraced, delivered and bought into across all 4,000 schools. It is not a ministerial fiat that changes things by a stroke, nor is it for the Oireachtas to try to specify what goes into the curriculum. Broad-brush principles of what should be included are fine, but we should refrain from getting into very precise specification of curricula if that is what was intended. I do not believe that this is inherent in the Bill, but when we come to look at this on Committee Stage, I would say that my Department will be urging the Oireachtas to be careful about seeking to create a legislative straitjacket that prevents the sort of innovative thinking and flexible application that the best education systems have.

I have aspired as Minister in the Department that by 2026 - it was ten years away, it is getting closer - we would have the best education and training system in Europe. Those who would have leadership positions, such as those in Finland, for instance, are characterised by a looser, less prescriptive approach, but they still ensure, nonetheless, that high standards are delivered and that people use that scope for innovation and not to exclude people but to best accommodate the children for whom they are catering.

That is the one thing I would warn against. I employ more than 100,000 people in the school system. We have phenomenal stakeholders such as teachers' unions, the NCCA and the National Educational Psychological Service. We have many good players and for us to succeed in respect of our ambition in this area, we need to have them supporting the capacity of schools to do it so we do need that way of evolving policy that is consultative as well as the Oireachtas signalling what it is. I think it is a shared desire in this House that we get a better approach. We cannot tolerate the continuation of those sort of numbers - 13% completing second level and 1% completing third level. They are not acceptable in any society that has just taken the significant step of recognising an important part of our culture and heritage.

In not opposing this Bill, I hope that Senators will work with the Department and me to evolve much better and much more effective policies and to work with the Traveller and Roma communities to implement those changes. There is an appetite there and there is a lot of goodwill. There is a huge number of Departments that are obliged to put their shoulders to the wheel. We in the Oireachtas can seek to ensure that this impetus is maintained as we develop this. I thank the Senators for the debate, which has been very interesting and well informed. From the presence in the Public Gallery, clearly, there is a lot of support for and interest in seeing us make progress in this area. We will not be opposing this legislation.

I am delighted the Minister is not opposing the Bill. I accept his invitation to work with him to develop the principles and spirit that have been captured in the Bill. As Senator Conway said, the Minister has significant powers in this area without the legislation. It is heartening to know that he will be using those powers, for example, with the audit he is proposing for the NCCA. I urge him to work with the Traveller community in that audit because, again, it should be a case of "nothing about us without us." In the past, we have formed policy without involving people who are directly affected by that policy. That would be an important point to make.

Senator McDowell said that the legislation is necessary. I believe that it is but it is not sufficient; we need to strike the right balance between the direction and will to address the fact that the situation for Travellers in terms of prejudice, discrimination and educational attainment is not acceptable and being prescriptive about it. I appreciate the points made by the Senator.

Senator Ruane had some very interesting ideas about how we can weave Traveller history and culture into curriculum across the piece rather than it being a case of "it's the third week of the month and we're now doing Traveller culture and history" and then forgetting about it. Senator Gallagher spoke about matching recognition of Traveller ethnicity, appreciating the similarities we have and appreciating and respecting difference. That was endorsed by Senator Noone as well.

Senator Mac Lochlainn spoke with great authenticity and first-hand experience of what internalised depression is and the fact that people feel they must hide their identities. Nobody should have to pretend to be somebody he or she is not. Schools should be warm places that encourage people to be themselves and to able to be out and proud about their identity in all shapes, shades and forms. I also thank Senator Grace O'Sullivan for discussing a neglected and misunderstood community and the points she made. We actually know little about Traveller culture and history formally and that is an important end in itself in the legislation.

Senator Dolan read a poem from John Agard and talked about Mary Seacole. I discovered those individuals when my children were attending a primary school in Tottenham because it had Black History Month. I had never heard of Mary Seacole, who was even more impressive than Florence Nightingale in terms of her nursing skills and ability but was written out of history. We need to make sure that people are written into history and that this history is taught across the piece and also has a knock-on effect in terms of people feeling valued and that they want to be in the educational system and part of the wider system. We need to tackle the disparities - 9% of people in the Traveller community between the ages of 24 and 35 complete the leaving certificate as opposed to 86% in the settled community and only 167 go on to third level. I could not count the people I know who have third-level education but that is the whole of the Traveller community. It is a community that has huge ability like every other community. It is just not given a chance or expression.

I am delighted the Minister is accepting the Bill and I am delighted by the support of fellow Senators. I thank Bernard Joyce from the Irish Travellers Movement for making this happen, Oein De Bhairduin, Jacinta, Sam and Ben in my office, who must put up with me on a daily basis. I thank the Civil Engagement Group, James Kane, Rachel and fellow Senators. I look forward to working constructively with the Minister in taking forward this important initiative for the benefit of Travellers but also for all our benefit and, ultimately, Irish society.

Question put and agreed to.

When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 17 July 2018.
Sitting suspended at 2.15 p.m. and resumed at 2.45 p.m.