President Michael D Higgins has said that the “failure of State policy” across decades has left Travellers isolated from Irish society.
He spoke in NUIG at the start of a week of events marking six year anniversary since the Irish Government officially recognised the Travelling community as a distinct ethnic group.
President Higgins said that Ireland had not recognised the “the degree of exclusion and the neglect” of ethnic minorities.
“I’ve been thinking as I come to this point in my Presidency, how I’ve often said how important it is to recognise ‘the other’. But I am now coming to a conclusion that we haven’t been very good at it, nationally and globally,”
“You will be told all your life how important it is to do something efficiently and well, but if efficiency is killing what is in your heart so that you have all the bureaucratic lingo and none of the moral ethos to put a wrong right, that’s the difference” he said.
President Higgins said that if the State could recognise the wrong done to the Traveller people, “you shouldn’t spend 20 years listening to excuses as to why it can’t be redressed”.
“Today is a day to take stock on how far we’ve come as a society that recognises and values the Traveller traditions and culture, but it is also a day to consider the road still ahead to full participation and equality,” he said.
The President outlined that only 14% of Traveller women have completed secondary school education, compared to 83% of the general population. 60% of Traveller men do not progress beyond primary education, compared to only 13% of the general population.
In his keynote address, NUIG President, Ciarán Ó hÓghartaigh highlighted the core values of the University: openness and respect.
He said that the University are “meeting the challenge of making our community a more equal, inclusive and diverse place in which to work and study”.
The week-long series of celebrations is organised by Mincéirs Misl’s in Education (MMIE).
MMIE work to remove barriers and to create a sense of belonging in higher education. They worked alongside a number of groups to enable Traveller Ethnicity Week, including the Galway Traveller Movement, Túsla, the NUIG Access Centre, and the Higher Education Authority.
Ballinasloe Traveller, Martin Mongan, is in his final year of journalism at the University of Limerick. He said that initiatives like Traveller Ethnicity Week are so important because of the positive exposure it brings to the travelling community.
“I think it’s crucial. When you see any kind of group or social class or race, when you see people speaking about your people in a positive light or when you see celebrations. There’s going to be kids tonight that will watch the news and see a Traveller on the news speaking about a big day recognising their culture. There’s going to be kids watching that thinking ‘you know what, that could be me one day. It is a path that I can now take that might not have been there for my parents’,” he said.
Included in the activities planned for the week are panel discussions about the need for Irish Traveller Allies; the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018; Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller LGBT+ people’s experience within their communities; and the criminalisation of nomadism from a UK and Irish perspective.
Cultural exhibitions and workshops are also taking place during the week, where the public can discover more about Irish Traveller culture and history.
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