Travellers need to see their faces reflected in parliament if the notion that the Oireachtas is the “sole reserve of the majority population” is to be deconstructed, the Seanad has heard.
Members of the Traveller community called for new laws to be introduced to encourage their participation in political life.
The appeal was made today as community representatives addressed senators for the first time since the State formally recognised the community as an ethnic minority in March 2017.
Martin Collins of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre said there were innovative ways to give a voice to indigenous ethnic groups.
“We can look, for example, at having quotas of Travellers in our national parliament,” he said.
“We can look at the whole concept of reserved seats, which is a tried and trusted method of supporting the inclusion of indigenous groups right across Europe.”
Mr Collins said that the Council of Europe had recently recommended that Irish authorities introduce legislative changes to adequately reflect the composition of Irish society and better take account of the needs of the Traveller and Roma communities.
He said other countries had managed to do so.
He cited Romania, where he said the Roma community had a voice in the national parliament through innovative structures.
“There can be no significant or sustainable change unless Travellers and Roma themselves are empowered to fully participate and influence policy that creates positive change for our communities on the ground,” Mr Collins said.
Kathleen Sherlock, co-ordinator of Minceirs Whiden (Cant for Travellers talking) also called for positive legislative measures to be implemented to ensure Traveller inclusion at a local and national level.
She said issues affecting Travellers were “not just about culture and identity, which is very, very important, but actual survival of our people”, and she called for specific seats for members of the Traveller community to be reserved within the Dail, Seanad and local councils.
“We recognise that the anti-Traveller bias that exists within Irish society does play a part in this crisis, however, it must be stated that the root cause is the result of successive Irish governments’ actions and inactions relating to the Traveller community.
“There is no community of people in Ireland that has been so negatively impacted by political decisions and political inactions as the Traveller community.”
Trinity College Dublin PhD student and member of the Traveller community Patrick McDonagh said the creation of a seat for Travellers in the Senate would go some way towards rectifying the lack of trust that the community feels towards the State.
“When you look at our political system, you do not see Irish travellers present,” he said.
Mr McDonagh said all too often members of the Traveller community were seen as “the freaks”, and that that perception needed to be dealt with.
He told senators that “deliberate policies” aimed at encouraging members of the community to participate in political life such as the creation of seats would “mark the beginning of what would still be a long journey to giving Travellers a role in the State, in proportion to our place and population within it”.
He added that it would be important for all four major political parties to start selecting Travellers to run at all levels.
“Irish Travellers cannot expect others to speak for them if they’re not willing to speak for themselves and I think education would be one of the great motivations and drive in changing that,” he said.
- Press Association