'Judged on the actions of the few': First traveller senator experienced racism at age four

'Judged on the actions of the few': First traveller senator experienced racism at age four
Eileen Flynn said Travellers often judged on the actions of a few. Picture: Maxwells.

The first female Traveller senator reveals she first encountered racism at the age of four.

Eileen Flynn, an activist

appointed to the Seanad last month by the Taoiseach, was born and raised in Labre Park, a halting site in Ballyfermot and now lives in Ardara in Donegal with her husband, who she met at a water charges protest.

Ms Flynn says that experiencing racism at such a young age has galvanised her to "change the system from the inside."

"For me, when I was four-years-of-age going to the shop with my mother, being followed around and watched in the shop," she said.

It was very hard to bear and you wonder why you are being treated differently and not understanding what racism is at that age.

"Then leaving school and looking for employment, looking to go to college and feeling different because of your background.

"It's hard on your self-esteem, instead of being accepted. I find an awful lot settled people telling us what our identity is, that's horrible.

"With Travellers, one person can do something and the whole community is tarred with that brush.

"You're judged on the actions of the few."

"I never imagined myself in the Oireachtas, I never thought I'd be good enough," she said.

"I grew up in a family really interested in news and politics, but what inspired me is the decade I've spent fighting for human rights and equality in Ireland and the only way you can change things is from the inside. I'm in the system now, but I don't plan to be part of it.

"I don't want to be held accountable for 40,000 travelers in Ireland either, I want to work with people on a range of issues, I'm not going to be put in a box for only answering on Traveller issues."

A new mother, like many others currently in the Seanad, Ms Flynn says the improved gender representation in the upper house should be pushed further to be more reflective of society.

"I will go to anything to do with women in politics, and when you get there its all ever so grand, but I always ask where are the black women? The Traveller women? Disabled women? 

"Nothing against the women there, but it's about giving each other a hand up, and I genuinely think, when we're looking for equality we have to ask ourselves who is equality for?

"Women are already at a gender disadvantage, it's not good enough having one woman from an ethnic minority group in the Seanad, or Oireachtas.

"It's not about being part of the system, it's using the tools and experience as an activist to change it.

We're leaving many women behind, that's what I learned from the Repeal campaign, we have to shout to be heard.

"Moving forward, how powerful would it be if we had 11 nominations from people from all backgrounds in civil society, not politicians?"

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