Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community
Traveller Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)
Mr. Thomas McCann:
There are many more Travellers involved across the country and many more who are politicised. Going back to the 1980s, Nan Joyce stood in the election in Tallaght at a time of heightened anti-Traveller protests. There has been a politicisation from that time.
Political representation is very important for the community but also in terms of legislation. Accommodation was mentioned earlier. I refer to the trespass legislation, for instance, which effectively criminalised nomadism. One cannot travel in this country now as a Traveller. One has 48 hours in that regard. What was a civil issue was turned into a criminal issue. We have a situation now where on the one hand one is no longer allowed to travel and, on the other hand, the local authorities are sending back millions of euro to the State.
If we look at the accommodation issue, the problem is not only the lack of provision. Travellers did not have a voice in that regard. That legislation went through both Houses of the Oireachtas but Travellers did not have any say politically in respect of it. We were totally outside of that process even though we were the community, and had been the only community, directly affected by it and on which it has been used.
Travellers have not had, and still do not have, a voice in this State. Travellers have run in elections but, unfortunately, with the opposition expressed much of the time, it is very difficult for them to get elected. It is also a question of visibility. For members of the Traveller community to see somebody who represents their community politically is very important because the political establishment does not reflect any of the community. That is very important for a number of reasons. People are becoming more politicised in terms of engaging both at a local level but also a national level on issues affecting the community, and other people. We have much to say about other issues that do not directly affect the community both at a national and international level.
We are, however, rarely consulted about them. We are pigeonholed in some ways in that we are only rolled in to talk about the Traveller issue; we are not brought in to talk about other national or international issues although we have a lot to say. Having said that, there needs to be political representation of the Traveller community. That voice needs to be heard, and there needs to be visibility. These are crucial in achieving change as we go forward.