I had prepared to speak amendment by amendment, but I will take them all together. I will, therefore, be speaking for a while.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for his engagement, and for the engagement by the previous Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018. At a briefing earlier we heard that it is of similar significance to the recognition of Travellers as Ireland's only Irish ethnic minority group. We are discussing something very important and precious within these walls today.
I am pleased to acknowledge that the Bill has been a catalyst for the recently completed National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, report ,Traveller History and Culture in the Curriculum: A Curriculum Audit, which is now signed off, though not yet published. I thank John Hammond, Aoife Rushe and other members of the NCCA project team for working so well and so constructively with me and the advisory group, members of which are present. The group members include Oein De Bhairdúin who co-ordinated, Dr. Sindy Joyce and others. I particularly recognise the work of the advisory group. The curriculum audit would not have happened without this Bill, which has also been a catalyst for some announcements today relating to the inspections of schools as they relate to the teaching of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum and on teacher training. I will come back to those. It is an important milestone and I hope the Minister will be able to direct the resources requested by John Hammond from budget 2020 to implement all the recommendations. Plenty of reports do not get implemented but we have to have the means to implement this. The Minister might give consideration to reserving a place for Travellers on the NCCA. The Bill is not the first of its kind. Similar initiatives are in place in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Canada, where there are indigenous communities and peoples, and they have proven to be successful.
I turn to the Minister's first amendment, which I oppose. This amendment removes the provision for the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum and for it to be taught by recognised schools. This amendment means that schools would simply have to "promote a knowledge and understanding of the culture and history of the Traveller community", rather than teach it as part of the syllabus. It is possible that this obligation to promote Traveller culture and history could be satisfied with even the most minimal activity on the part of each individual school, if at all. Past performance indicates that this is the more probable outcome. Through the amendment, promotion would occur on a school-by-school basis, resulting in some schools promoting it to a greater or lesser extent. There is evidence for my scepticism. The 2001 Department for Education Guidelines on Traveller Education in Second Level Schools state that "schools have to be proactive in acknowledging and validating Traveller ways of living". Across the 14 subject areas identified in the Department's guidelines, only social, personal and health education, SPHE, has referenced Travellers in lesson plans since then. There were no references in other subjects such as history, music, business studies, geography, and arts, crafts and design to Traveller culture and history. Guidelines from the Department are honoured in the breach and, 18 years on, these guidelines have not been universally adopted by schools. The guidelines have been ignored, without sanction, by schools up and down the country. With the guidance and advice from Travellers, Traveller organisations such as the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women's Forum and others nationally, as well as from local groups such as the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, and with the legal expertise of barrister, James Kane, and the Public Interest Law Alliance, PILA, I proposed the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill in July 2018 to address the great gap in the teaching and knowledge of Traveller culture and history.
A key purpose of the Bill is to dispel myths and lies at the heart of prejudice, racism and discrimination, which is an everyday experience for Travellers in Ireland. These myths have caused the perpetration of a cycle of victim blaming as described by psychologist, William Ryan, where members of the 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 this observation to justify attitudes that cause this cycle of poverty, exclusion and marginalisation to be perpetuated.
As a people we are ignorant of Traveller history and culture. Such ignorance is the context in which discrimination is a daily reality for the Traveller community. According to research by Michael McGrail of NUI Maynooth in 2010, 60.1% of settled people would not welcome a Traveller as a member of the family, 63.7% reject Travellers based on their way of life, and 18% would deny Irish citizenship to Travellers. I am sure Members will agree that these are shocking statistics. Irish people do not know ourselves. We do not know our history. We
do not know our culture. Travellers and Traveller children and their life chances are the collateral damage of that ignorance and that denial. The Travellers' story is part of Ireland's story. We must be taught Traveller history and culture.
I have completed my first year in a master's degree in family psychotherapy. One of the first things we learn is the importance of knowing ourselves and our history. We do a genogram on which we try to populate our family trees, investigating and filling in all the blanks going back generations so that we may know ourselves and, to paraphrase the black civil rights activist and writer James Baldwin, that we may be able to claim our birthright. Traveller culture and history is a great, big blank in Ireland's genogram. We do not know ourselves fully and wholly today because we do not know Traveller history and culture. I ask all present what they know of Traveller history? Were any of us taught it? This omission is a dangerous airbrushing of Ireland's only recognised ethnic minority from its rightful place in history. We are not just denying our identity; we are excluding a whole community. This gaping hole in our knowledge has resulted in poor policymaking. Travellers still speak of, and bear the scars of, the 1962 itinerancy report. There are also other examples.
The Department of Education and Skills and the NCCA's intercultural guidelines of 2005 are positive but were also ignored. The Department's approach of seeking, rather than providing for, the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum taught by recognised schools in the State simply has not worked. It has not educated the general population about Traveller culture and history. There has been an invisibility about Traveller culture and history in our schools. Traveller children have not been validated in our education system. If Traveller children were so validated, why then would only 80% transfer from primary to secondary school, as some indicators show?
According to Pavee Point, many Travellers say that the first time that they are made to feel bad about their Traveller identity is when they cross the threshold of a school and that sometimes at school they are made to feel that education is not for them. A Traveller child may be the only Traveller in the class and can be treated negatively and suspiciously. Oein De Bhairduin spoke about this Bill being an opportunity to lift the responsibility for Traveller culture in education from the shoulders of that little child to us as the State.
Is it any surprise that compared to the general population Travellers are more than 50 times more likely to leave school without the leaving certificate? Just 13% of female Travellers were educated to upper secondary level or above when compared with almost 70% of the general population. At most, 57% of male Travellers were educated to primary level. The CSO national Traveller education statistics from 2016 estimated that only 167 Travellers ever went on to third level education.
There is a history of legislation failing to protect the Traveller community. The Bill in its current form seeks to change that. Traveller culture and history in education needs to be mandatory. Well meaning, well intentioned, aspirational guidelines and directions to schools, done with undoubted goodwill but without the force of law, simply do not deliver to all Travellers the teaching of Traveller culture and history. It does not deliver it to any of us. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister to his end that Traveller culture and history should be included in the curriculum and taught well. However, with regret, I believe that his means and his amendment No. 1 make that prospect less likely than with the Bill as originally proposed. I oppose the amendment and urge the Minister to think again.
I am also opposing amendment No. 2, proposed by the Minister, for similar reasons. I regret that it is proposed to remove the words "promote and teach Traveller culture and history". When he takes the Bill to the Dáil, I hope the Minister will consider the inclusion in section 9 of the Education Act 1998, although it is not as strong as in the original draft of the Bill, to "promote the understanding and appreciation of Traveller culture". That would be a better amendment. I am not sure what the additional benefit of inserting "within the meaning of" the Act would bring. In fact, some might argue that Travellers have not fully vindicated their rights under the Equal Status Act in respect of education and discrimination therein as it currently exists. I would be interested in hearing the Minister's reasoning.
I draw the Minister's attention to European conventions and treaties which Ireland has ratified. I refer to the report of the advisory committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of June 2019. In its recommendation at paragraph 77, the advisory committee calls on the authorities, in this case the Irish State, specifically to "support the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum taught in schools, and to further promote and enhance an inclusive school environment for Traveller students in order to combat discrimination". I also have drawn attention to Recommendation No. R (2000) 4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member states on the education of Roma and gypsy children in Europe, which recommended that curricula would consider and reflect the culture and history of the gypsy and Traveller communities. The Spanish education Minister just a few weeks ago recognised that it is fundamental that Roma students feel included and welcome in school, as well as recognising the important role of education in combatting negative stereotypes. This is a country example to which Ireland should pay some attention. Amendment No. 2 would be contrary to this recommendation of European bodies and commitments made in conventions and treaties that Ireland has signed up to and ratified. I urge the Minister to think again about what I have raised. That is why I will be opposing this amendment.
I am opposing amendment No. 3, which proposes to delete my amendment of section 30 of the Education Act 1998. The reasons are as I have already set out. The Bill needs teeth to deliver the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum in order that it is taught and taught well in to every child in every recognised school, at every cycle, from the early years into primary, junior and senior cycle. The Minister knows the cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Travellers know this only too well. This evaluation is at the heart of arguing for a mandatory requirement of schools to teach Traveller culture and history. There has been a litany of failed legislation and false dawns for Travellers. The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, now under review by the Minister of State, Deputy English, failed to secure Travellers the accommodation they need and to which they are entitled. As Members are aware, local authorities send money back. In 1998, the Employment Equality Act and equal status legislation were passed yet Traveller unemployment remains around 80% today when we are at almost full employment in the general population. In 2001, the Department of Education and Science published guidelines on Traveller education in second level schools yet 18 years later, these guidelines have universally not been adopted. Further action was taken in 2002 and 2005 but with little progress. These examples underpin my case for mandatory teaching of Traveller culture and history in school. Otherwise, as Pavee Point states, things will be hit and miss and possibly based on inaccurate information. In my Bill as proposed, a syllabus developed through expert bodies such as the NCCA and other stakeholders would ensure consistent and mandatory delivery of some teaching on Traveller culture and history in education. The proposed amendment does not achieve this but would, in effect, remove the involvement of the NCCA since no substantive area of syllabus is being developed, which is a shame given the substantive work the NCCA has done. We do not have time for schools to adopt this programme when it suits them. Traveller children cannot wait. Traveller culture and history need to be taught across all schools as soon as possible. The amendments proposed by the Department do not reflect the urgency of this situation.
I ask the Minister to consider inserting a new section into the Education Act 1998 after section 37. My suggestion is as follows:
(1) The Minister may, having consulted with NCCA and QQI prescribe that Traveller Culture and History
(a) be taught in all recognised schools
(b) be included as a mandatory part of the curriculum in all degree level courses in education, at higher education instructions
(c) be promoted as a core competence of teachers in their ongoing professional development.
(2) The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment shall prescribe the curriculum to be followed pursuant to subsection (1)(a) above.
I ask the Minister also to consider adding a Traveller as a member of the NCCA as I mentioned earlier. This would require amending section 40(2)(b) of the Education Act 1998 by the insertion, after section 40(2)(b)(ii) of the following:
(iii) are representative of the Traveller community,
I ask the Minister to reconsider the points and ideas that I have put forward and to withdraw his amendment.
I am opposing amendment No. 4 due to a lack of specifics. When is this Bill expected to pass through the Dáil and come into law? Will the Minister be taking the Bill through himself? Notwithstanding my opposition to the Minister's amendments, the Minister taking this Bill through to the Dáil would be of enormous significance, symbolism and importance to the Traveller community. Can he give more specifics as to the timeline of the Bill and adjust the amendment accordingly? Will he take the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill through to the Dáil following its passage here today and when could this be expected? I appreciate the audit that has been undertaken by the NCCA and welcome the Minister's announcements on the inspectorate and the inclusion and consultation with the Traveller community that will be at the heart of those changes around the inspection framework. I also welcome the focus on the competency of teachers to teach Traveller culture and education when teacher education standards are being reviewed. However, for all the reasons given, I am opposing the Minister's amendments. I hope he will listen again to the arguments I have made. I wish to see the Bill go through to the Dáil because it is important. It would be of enormous significance that it would be the Minister rather than me, a lowly Senator, who would take this through.