Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community
Traveller Mental Health: Discussion (Resumed)
I withdraw that statement. The presidential election highlighted an issue that is very much in the public domain, namely, societal attitudes. If we did not have those societal attitudes, we would not have seen the result we got. I am not talking about the winner of the presidential campaign, who has been a friend of Travellers for many years. We cannot walk away from that reality. I find prejudices are very subtle now. People know the rules and anti-discrimination laws but have a few ways of getting round them. There are always excuses about why houses or Traveller-specific accommodation should not be built, for example, that a site is in the wrong place or not suitable for Travellers. I have been blunt in saying that this matter should be taken by the scruff of the neck. If our local authorities cannot deal with the issue, it should be taken from them and given to somebody who will do it. It has been done with Irish Water so I cannot see why it cannot be done with Traveller housing because we are not delivering it. Failure to do so is destroying people's lives, their chance of getting an education and many other things. They are moving from place to place trying to educate their children while living in hotel bedrooms. That is not on.
I also notice a quiet discrimination in schools. Ms Kelly would be familiar with the schools in Galway. When the percentage of Travellers in a school goes over a certain threshold, other people quietly migrate. There are many ways in which discrimination operates in society and we need to confront them.
I believe politics could be a much more powerful tool. I have looked at other small communities, which I will not mention. These communities are not well to do. One community that is much smaller than the Traveller community disproportionately punches above its weight, even though it is dispersed like the Traveller community is. The reason is that all of its members vote and only vote for the people who they think have a good record of standing up for their cause. I have often made the point that in a general election, in more cases than not, the last seat is decided by fewer than 1,000 votes and nobody standing in an election believes that he or she will not be the person who winds up fighting for the last seat.
If it was thought that the Traveller community would look at the records of all the candidates in relation to their communities - I have seen other communities do this - and if they thought that last seat could be decided by, let us say, in the city of Galway, 1,000 people deciding to vote one way in a coherent fashion, I am telling the witnesses as a practising politician there would be a very quick change of attitude. There has never been a perception that Travellers would act in such an organised coherent fashion because it is difficult at times for those who have not been part of the system to understand the power of this.