I move amendment No. 1:
In page 3, line 12, to delete "traveller" and substitute "Traveller".
I welcome the newly appointed Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy McHugh, to his first week in the job, or first week in school as it were. I acknowledge the work of his predecessor, Deputy Bruton, whose support was evident in the progressing of this Bill. We have many visitors from the Traveller community here today because this is a significant event since the recognition of Traveller ethnicity.
This amendment proposes to capitalise the "t" in Traveller in this section and throughout the Bill. This is an important adjustment to a simple drafting error, a necessary and important rectification.
On 1 March 2017, the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said in Dáil Éireann, "I now wish formally to recognise Travellers as a distinct ethnic group within the Irish nation." In that same speech, the then Taoiseach acknowledged, "Our Traveller community is an integral part of our society for over 1,000 years, with its own distinct identity – people within our people." The same sentiment was echoed by Deputy Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, during the debate on Traveller recognition on 1 March 2017 in Dáil Éireann. He said, "As recent research and work has shown, Travellers have been a distinct part of our history for as long as written records exist."
Since March 2017, Travellers have been formally recognised by the State as a distinct ethnic group, Ireland's only indigenous ethnic group. The inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum of Irish primary and post-primary schools is a logical and necessary continuation of the State's historic recognition of Traveller ethnicity. It is surprising that Traveller culture and history is not already taught, and taught well, in schools. Listening to the recent ill-informed, ignorant, insulting, ill-advised, and close enough to incitement, remarks of a presidential candidate about the recognition of Traveller ethnicity, mercifully at 1% in opinion polls for the presidential election, these dangerous remarks are yet another argument and reason for Traveller culture and history to be taught and taught well in our schools, for all of us, including those who would be our President, our Head of State. I know on what side of history I want to be. I know that I prefer to align with, not attack, the least powerful and most marginalised, and not side with the rich and the millionaires. I understand the presidential candidate in question, Peter Casey, made further comments this afternoon. He should consider withdrawing from the race.
Last week Dr. Karl Kitching, an educationist and director of equality at UCC, said at an Oireachtas briefing held on this Bill that it was difficult to overstate the historic importance of the proposed amendments to the Education Act that the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill would bring to all children in all schools. He also spoke about the impact of the Bill on young Travellers at school with worryingly low levels of educational completion and attainment. The numbers really are striking. Secondary school completion among young female Travellers stands at 13%, as opposed to almost 70% in the general population, while only 167 Travellers have ever completed third level education out of a population of 40,000 people. Dr. Kitching said that in the school curriculum, young Travellers rarely see or hear narratives about their lives that are not paternalistic. I would go further in that Travellers rarely see or hear narratives which are not negative, inaccurate or even downright prejudiced, as the recent remarks of a presidential candidate confirm.
At the same Oireachtas briefing last week, Hannagh McGinley, a Traveller, a mother, a teacher and PhD candidate at NUIG, spoke about the fact that Traveller children's literacy and numeracy were behind those of their settled peers. She said we could not improve their maths and literacy if we did not improve their overall well-being and sense of self. She added that if we did not instil a sense of pride in them, then everything else was a waste of time.
The mainstreaming of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum, taught well of course, is key. Dr. Kitching cited relevant international precedents in curricula development in New Zealand, Australia and Ontario, Canada, and successful examples of where states have mandated the teaching of indigenous contributions, histories, cultures and perspectives across primary and secondary curricula. He concluded his presentation by underlining his support for the Bill. He said that we need to deeply recognise what Travellers have to teach and contribute to the settled majority in society because the story of Travellers in school is engaging the story of Ireland.
Dr. David Edwards, an historian at UCC, also speaking at last week's Oireachtas briefing on this Bill, emphasised this point too. He said Travellers were among the oldest of the Irish and the last vestiges of an old, Gaelic, tribal society. He added that during the Middle Ages, the Irish were a semi-nomadic, pastoral people but that this way of life was knocked sideways by the imposition of direct English rule with its insistence on a sedentary life in the 16th and 17th centuries. He said the majority of the Irish population today is an acknowledgement of the success of the English plantation project while the Travellers resisted, stayed on the margins and managed to retain a semblance of the old way of life. In Dr. Edwards's view it would be quite easy to incorporate the story of Travellers into the history of Ireland because it is, in many ways, the story of Ireland. I am sure Dr. Edwards would be available to give a history lesson to the presidential candidate and to give him some background of which he ill-advisedly speaks.