Wednesday, 16 October 2019
Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh, to the House. Before we commence, I remind Members that a Senator may speak only once on Report Stage, with the exception of the proposer of an amendment, who may reply to discussion on the amendment. Each non-Government amendment on Report Stage must be seconded.
Amendment No. 1 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I acknowledge Senator Colette Kelleher for her díograis on this issue and for prioritising this important area. It would be remiss of me to leave my county colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, out. He campaigned very intensively for recognition of ethnicity over the years. I acknowledge all Members of the House for their diligence in ensuring that actions which aim to improve educational outcomes for the Traveller community are progressed. Representatives are present in the Gallery today. Cuirim fáilte rompu. They are all very welcome.
I agree with the principles underlying this Bill, which is sponsored by Senator Kelleher. I am fully supportive of actions which aim to improve educational outcomes for Travellers, including ensuring the school setting is a more welcoming environment. As many Senators will know, I strongly believe there are many benefits to teaching our young people about our history and in learning the lessons of our past. It is from the dark, uncomfortable aspects of our history, including our treatment of members of the Traveller community among many other marginalised groups, that we learn the most important lessons. There is no shortage of examples in the world in which we live of where a lack of understanding of history and different cultures has been the causes of crises. The promotion of knowledge and understanding of Traveller culture and history in schools will help to build recognition of the important value of that culture and history to this country. Recognising and respecting Traveller culture and history ensures that we can build relationships based on trust, respect and understanding across all cultures.
While I am supportive of the overall principle underlying this Bill, it could potentially be problematic if passed. It is for that reason that the Government has tabled the amendments I will outline. The amendments being tabled by Government are designed to assist in providing clarity and to avoid any potential unintended consequences.
Amendment No. 1 provides for a change to the Title of the Bill to reflect more accurately the changes outlined in the other amendments. As I reported to the House last October, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, was tasked with conducting an audit of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum. I thank Senator Kelleher for her engagement over recent months. I also thank the Traveller representative groups that were consulted as part of the NCCA review for their input into the process.
Amendment No. 2, proposed by the Government, inserts a new reference to Traveller culture and history within an existing section of the Education Act 1998, which deals with other Irish cultural matters and traditions. This is considered a more appropriate location for this reference. Amendment No. 2 also contains a change for technical reasons to ensure a greater level of clarity and legal certainty on the references to Traveller culture and history. There is no clear legal definition of what is meant by "Traveller culture and history". Section 2 of the Equal Status Act 2000 defines "Traveller community" as "the community of people who are commonly called Travellers and who are identified (both by themselves and others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland". Amendment No. 2 provides legal clarity in line with the definition in section 2 of the Equal Status Act.
Amendment No. 3 proposes to delete lines 13 to 19 of the Bill. If section 30 of the Education Act 1998 was amended as proposed by lines 13 to 19 of the Private Member's Bill, according to legal advice received by my Department, a situation would be created whereby the only subject area prescribed in this jurisdiction would be Traveller culture and history, granting it a different status from all other subjects, including Irish, English and maths. The curriculum in our schools is determined and set through an extensive development and consultative process conducted by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which results in the production of syllabuses or specifications for each subject area. These are accompanied by circular letters issued to schools by my Department. I have proposed amendment No. 2 to ensure that the Bill can be amended in a manner which would reflect the overall intent to include Traveller history and culture within the education system while not specifically prescribing the curricular content by means of legislation.
Amendment No. 4 is a commencement provision. Following the recent audit of the curriculum with regard to Traveller culture and history, it is intended that, in the same way it does for other aspects of the curriculum, the NCCA will source and identify suitable resources and materials to enable intercultural education and understanding to permeate across the curriculum, settings, and schools. When my Department receives the final report of the NCCA in this matter, it will be in a position to determine the resources that will be available to, and required by, schools in the promotion of knowledge and understanding of Traveller culture and history. Amendment No. 4 is proposed so that my Department will have an opportunity to communicate the provisions of the Act to schools and to address its implementation with all stakeholders. It will allow time for the required materials and resources to be developed, and for any other development work which is needed.
One of the central ways in which the inspectorate evaluates, advises and supports is by visiting and conducting inspections in schools, centres for education, and other settings. It is intended that, in line with the monitoring of the implementation of other Department of Education and Skills policies in schools, the current school evaluation process and evaluation visits by the inspectorate will provide the basis by which the implementation of the principles of the Bill will be evaluated. I want to ensure the views of national Traveller groups are fully included when decisions are being considered as to how school inspections are to be conducted. Detailed inspection frameworks and guides to inspection are published. These set out how all inspections are conducted in schools and other settings. Section 13(8) of the Education Act 1998 provides that these frameworks and guides to inspection are finalised following consultation with the education partners. I have asked the chief inspector to ensure the national Traveller representative groups are included among the partner groups consulted by the inspectorate as inspection frameworks, models, and published guides to inspection are revised from time to time in line with section 13(8) of the Education Act.
The next planned revision of inspection frameworks is scheduled to occur in 2020, when the quality frameworks for primary and post-primary schools, entitled Looking at Our School, will be revised, in tandem with the development of a new circular on schools self-evaluation, to cover the school years 2020-2021 to 2023-2024. I will arrange for members of my inspectorate to meet the Traveller representative groups to explain how the school inspection process works and how national Traveller groups will be able to participate in consultations on future school inspection developments. In the area of teacher education, the Teaching Council is currently conducting a review of the standards set out in the criteria and guidelines for programme providers.My Department is preparing its formal response to the draft standards document, which will take into account policies and strategies relevant to initial teacher education, including the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy. I expect that this review will be completed by the end of this year.
The final revised initial teacher education standards will be used to inform the Teaching Council as it prepares for the next round of accreditation of all initial teacher education programmes, which is due to begin in 2020. I must signal that a money message may be required should the Bill progress, but I am happy to facilitate its progress if these amendments are accepted.
Once again, I thank Senator Kelleher and the groups involved for their work in publishing and getting the Bill to this Stage and for their willingness to work with me and my Department on this. As a former Government Chief Whip, I know how difficult it can be to make progress on a Bill such as this, but also what can be achieved when Oireachtas Members work together.
I had prepared to speak amendment by amendment, but I will take them all together. I will, therefore, be speaking for a while.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for his engagement, and for the engagement by the previous Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, on the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018. At a briefing earlier we heard that it is of similar significance to the recognition of Travellers as Ireland's only Irish ethnic minority group. We are discussing something very important and precious within these walls today.
I am pleased to acknowledge that the Bill has been a catalyst for the recently completed National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, report ,Traveller History and Culture in the Curriculum: A Curriculum Audit, which is now signed off, though not yet published. I thank John Hammond, Aoife Rushe and other members of the NCCA project team for working so well and so constructively with me and the advisory group, members of which are present. The group members include Oein De Bhairdúin who co-ordinated, Dr. Sindy Joyce and others. I particularly recognise the work of the advisory group. The curriculum audit would not have happened without this Bill, which has also been a catalyst for some announcements today relating to the inspections of schools as they relate to the teaching of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum and on teacher training. I will come back to those. It is an important milestone and I hope the Minister will be able to direct the resources requested by John Hammond from budget 2020 to implement all the recommendations. Plenty of reports do not get implemented but we have to have the means to implement this. The Minister might give consideration to reserving a place for Travellers on the NCCA. The Bill is not the first of its kind. Similar initiatives are in place in New Zealand, Australia and parts of Canada, where there are indigenous communities and peoples, and they have proven to be successful.
I turn to the Minister's first amendment, which I oppose. This amendment removes the provision for the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum and for it to be taught by recognised schools. This amendment means that schools would simply have to "promote a knowledge and understanding of the culture and history of the Traveller community", rather than teach it as part of the syllabus. It is possible that this obligation to promote Traveller culture and history could be satisfied with even the most minimal activity on the part of each individual school, if at all. Past performance indicates that this is the more probable outcome. Through the amendment, promotion would occur on a school-by-school basis, resulting in some schools promoting it to a greater or lesser extent. There is evidence for my scepticism. The 2001 Department for Education Guidelines on Traveller Education in Second Level Schools state that "schools have to be proactive in acknowledging and validating Traveller ways of living". Across the 14 subject areas identified in the Department's guidelines, only social, personal and health education, SPHE, has referenced Travellers in lesson plans since then. There were no references in other subjects such as history, music, business studies, geography, and arts, crafts and design to Traveller culture and history. Guidelines from the Department are honoured in the breach and, 18 years on, these guidelines have not been universally adopted by schools. The guidelines have been ignored, without sanction, by schools up and down the country. With the guidance and advice from Travellers, Traveller organisations such as the Irish Traveller Movement, the National Traveller Women's Forum and others nationally, as well as from local groups such as the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, and with the legal expertise of barrister, James Kane, and the Public Interest Law Alliance, PILA, I proposed the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill in July 2018 to address the great gap in the teaching and knowledge of Traveller culture and history.
A key purpose of the Bill is to dispel myths and lies at the heart of prejudice, racism and discrimination, which is an everyday experience for Travellers in Ireland. These myths have caused the perpetration of a cycle of victim blaming as described by psychologist, William Ryan, where members of the dominant community see features of the social life of a marginalised community that are the result of poverty and marginalisation as essential features of that community's culture and use this observation to justify attitudes that cause this cycle of poverty, exclusion and marginalisation to be perpetuated.
As a people we are ignorant of Traveller history and culture. Such ignorance is the context in which discrimination is a daily reality for the Traveller community. According to research by Michael McGrail of NUI Maynooth in 2010, 60.1% of settled people would not welcome a Traveller as a member of the family, 63.7% reject Travellers based on their way of life, and 18% would deny Irish citizenship to Travellers. I am sure Members will agree that these are shocking statistics. Irish people do not know ourselves. We do not know our history. We
do not know our culture. Travellers and Traveller children and their life chances are the collateral damage of that ignorance and that denial. The Travellers' story is part of Ireland's story. We must be taught Traveller history and culture.
I have completed my first year in a master's degree in family psychotherapy. One of the first things we learn is the importance of knowing ourselves and our history. We do a genogram on which we try to populate our family trees, investigating and filling in all the blanks going back generations so that we may know ourselves and, to paraphrase the black civil rights activist and writer James Baldwin, that we may be able to claim our birthright. Traveller culture and history is a great, big blank in Ireland's genogram. We do not know ourselves fully and wholly today because we do not know Traveller history and culture. I ask all present what they know of Traveller history? Were any of us taught it? This omission is a dangerous airbrushing of Ireland's only recognised ethnic minority from its rightful place in history. We are not just denying our identity; we are excluding a whole community. This gaping hole in our knowledge has resulted in poor policymaking. Travellers still speak of, and bear the scars of, the 1962 itinerancy report. There are also other examples.
The Department of Education and Skills and the NCCA's intercultural guidelines of 2005 are positive but were also ignored. The Department's approach of seeking, rather than providing for, the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum taught by recognised schools in the State simply has not worked. It has not educated the general population about Traveller culture and history. There has been an invisibility about Traveller culture and history in our schools. Traveller children have not been validated in our education system. If Traveller children were so validated, why then would only 80% transfer from primary to secondary school, as some indicators show?
According to Pavee Point, many Travellers say that the first time that they are made to feel bad about their Traveller identity is when they cross the threshold of a school and that sometimes at school they are made to feel that education is not for them. A Traveller child may be the only Traveller in the class and can be treated negatively and suspiciously. Oein De Bhairduin spoke about this Bill being an opportunity to lift the responsibility for Traveller culture in education from the shoulders of that little child to us as the State.
Is it any surprise that compared to the general population Travellers are more than 50 times more likely to leave school without the leaving certificate? Just 13% of female Travellers were educated to upper secondary level or above when compared with almost 70% of the general population. At most, 57% of male Travellers were educated to primary level. The CSO national Traveller education statistics from 2016 estimated that only 167 Travellers ever went on to third level education.There is a history of legislation failing to protect the Traveller community. The Bill in its current form seeks to change that. Traveller culture and history in education needs to be mandatory. Well meaning, well intentioned, aspirational guidelines and directions to schools, done with undoubted goodwill but without the force of law, simply do not deliver to all Travellers the teaching of Traveller culture and history. It does not deliver it to any of us. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister to his end that Traveller culture and history should be included in the curriculum and taught well. However, with regret, I believe that his means and his amendment No. 1 make that prospect less likely than with the Bill as originally proposed. I oppose the amendment and urge the Minister to think again.
I am also opposing amendment No. 2, proposed by the Minister, for similar reasons. I regret that it is proposed to remove the words "promote and teach Traveller culture and history". When he takes the Bill to the Dáil, I hope the Minister will consider the inclusion in section 9 of the Education Act 1998, although it is not as strong as in the original draft of the Bill, to "promote the understanding and appreciation of Traveller culture". That would be a better amendment. I am not sure what the additional benefit of inserting "within the meaning of" the Act would bring. In fact, some might argue that Travellers have not fully vindicated their rights under the Equal Status Act in respect of education and discrimination therein as it currently exists. I would be interested in hearing the Minister's reasoning.
I draw the Minister's attention to European conventions and treaties which Ireland has ratified. I refer to the report of the advisory committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of June 2019. In its recommendation at paragraph 77, the advisory committee calls on the authorities, in this case the Irish State, specifically to "support the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum taught in schools, and to further promote and enhance an inclusive school environment for Traveller students in order to combat discrimination". I also have drawn attention to Recommendation No. R (2000) 4 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to member states on the education of Roma and gypsy children in Europe, which recommended that curricula would consider and reflect the culture and history of the gypsy and Traveller communities. The Spanish education Minister just a few weeks ago recognised that it is fundamental that Roma students feel included and welcome in school, as well as recognising the important role of education in combatting negative stereotypes. This is a country example to which Ireland should pay some attention. Amendment No. 2 would be contrary to this recommendation of European bodies and commitments made in conventions and treaties that Ireland has signed up to and ratified. I urge the Minister to think again about what I have raised. That is why I will be opposing this amendment.
I am opposing amendment No. 3, which proposes to delete my amendment of section 30 of the Education Act 1998. The reasons are as I have already set out. The Bill needs teeth to deliver the inclusion of Traveller culture and history in the curriculum in order that it is taught and taught well in to every child in every recognised school, at every cycle, from the early years into primary, junior and senior cycle. The Minister knows the cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Travellers know this only too well. This evaluation is at the heart of arguing for a mandatory requirement of schools to teach Traveller culture and history. There has been a litany of failed legislation and false dawns for Travellers. The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, now under review by the Minister of State, Deputy English, failed to secure Travellers the accommodation they need and to which they are entitled. As Members are aware, local authorities send money back. In 1998, the Employment Equality Act and equal status legislation were passed yet Traveller unemployment remains around 80% today when we are at almost full employment in the general population. In 2001, the Department of Education and Science published guidelines on Traveller education in second level schools yet 18 years later, these guidelines have universally not been adopted. Further action was taken in 2002 and 2005 but with little progress. These examples underpin my case for mandatory teaching of Traveller culture and history in school. Otherwise, as Pavee Point states, things will be hit and miss and possibly based on inaccurate information. In my Bill as proposed, a syllabus developed through expert bodies such as the NCCA and other stakeholders would ensure consistent and mandatory delivery of some teaching on Traveller culture and history in education. The proposed amendment does not achieve this but would, in effect, remove the involvement of the NCCA since no substantive area of syllabus is being developed, which is a shame given the substantive work the NCCA has done. We do not have time for schools to adopt this programme when it suits them. Traveller children cannot wait. Traveller culture and history need to be taught across all schools as soon as possible. The amendments proposed by the Department do not reflect the urgency of this situation.
I ask the Minister to consider inserting a new section into the Education Act 1998 after section 37. My suggestion is as follows:
(1) The Minister may, having consulted with NCCA and QQI prescribe that Traveller Culture and History (a) be taught in all recognised schools
(b) be included as a mandatory part of the curriculum in all degree level courses in education, at higher education instructions
(c) be promoted as a core competence of teachers in their ongoing professional development.(2) The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment shall prescribe the curriculum to be followed pursuant to subsection (1)(a) above.
I ask the Minister also to consider adding a Traveller as a member of the NCCA as I mentioned earlier. This would require amending section 40(2)(b) of the Education Act 1998 by the insertion, after section 40(2)(b)(ii) of the following:
(iii) are representative of the Traveller community,
I ask the Minister to reconsider the points and ideas that I have put forward and to withdraw his amendment.
I am opposing amendment No. 4 due to a lack of specifics. When is this Bill expected to pass through the Dáil and come into law? Will the Minister be taking the Bill through himself? Notwithstanding my opposition to the Minister's amendments, the Minister taking this Bill through to the Dáil would be of enormous significance, symbolism and importance to the Traveller community. Can he give more specifics as to the timeline of the Bill and adjust the amendment accordingly? Will he take the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill through to the Dáil following its passage here today and when could this be expected? I appreciate the audit that has been undertaken by the NCCA and welcome the Minister's announcements on the inspectorate and the inclusion and consultation with the Traveller community that will be at the heart of those changes around the inspection framework. I also welcome the focus on the competency of teachers to teach Traveller culture and education when teacher education standards are being reviewed. However, for all the reasons given, I am opposing the Minister's amendments. I hope he will listen again to the arguments I have made. I wish to see the Bill go through to the Dáil because it is important. It would be of enormous significance that it would be the Minister rather than me, a lowly Senator, who would take this through.
I welcome the Minister and welcome our guests in the Gallery, who are listening to the debate this afternoon. I compliment Senator Kelleher on her work in this area. She has been a champion in pushing the Bill forward. I have listened to her comments in the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on this subject as well. It would also be remiss of me not to include my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn, for his ongoing work and efforts to promote the rights of the Traveller community. I have listened to the Minister's comments and am heartened by them. His comments map out a route to our shared destination for the aspirations of this Bill. We will have to keep a close watch on the progress of the Bill. The Minister spoke of a previous role that he had as Chief Whip and he outlined rightly the new politics and the new era in which we find ourselves. It is only by agreement and consultation that we can move these things forward.The arithmetic in the Lower House in particular highlights this very issue.
I am very happy and proud to support the Bill. It is important that Traveller history and culture is on the curriculum. It is a very strong and positive move that we are bringing this forward. I understand Senator Kelleher's concerns that it will drift and that, perhaps, the road will be a long one but if we are all genuine in our ambition and aspiration to move this forward there is no reason it should not proceed quickly. When the Minister sums up the debate, I would welcome hearing that he will personally ensure the Bill progresses to its destination as quickly as possible. It is important that all Traveller children are given an equal footing. I would like to see their ambitions realised as they go through the school system. I am very happy and proud to support the Bill and I will be keeping a close eye on its progress.
I fully support the Bill that has been led by Senator Kelleher. As a fellow Donegal man, the Minister will appreciate this wee story. Weeks ago I found myself in Derry and Tyrone with the Cineál Eoghain, an historical organisation celebrating the Gaelic clans of the region. It was fantastic to be there going over the history, some of which was about battles and conflicts, which was very sad. We looked at 700 or 800 years of our history, from the 800s to the 1500s to 1600s. Those Gaelic clans were nomadic peoples. They were not settled people living in one place. Even when we think about the forts and monasteries throughout the country, they represent only a section of our people. The vast majority were nomadic.
What evolved in our history was that as time moved on we in Ireland adopted the European norm of having our own wee bit of land, house or settled property. However, some of our people continued with the nomadic ways and some families kept with the nomadic ways of being on the road. This was economically sustainable with tinsmithery and other sales and commerce but it hit a period of crisis. Despite the crisis, these families and communities wanted to continue with the nomadic ways. We had a tragedy in 1963 with the Commission on Itinerancy. In fairness, the State recognition of Traveller ethnicity has put that shameful report into the bin of history. Sadly, it set the scene for the problems we have today. It described the Traveller community as a problem and did not recognise Traveller history. It denied Traveller ethnicity and history and any sense of a shared language, music or culture. It did not even have Travellers in the consultation process. For decades afterwards, it was all about killing the Traveller culture and pushing the Traveller community into the settled community. That was the whole approach. It also demonised the Traveller culture.
I have told a story in the House that I will repeat today because it is very important that we call out the problems we have. I was at a football match in Croke Park and during the match there was a very rough tackle. A woman behind me shouted down to the player, "You dirty tinker, you dirty tinker". She was right behind me. I probably should have challenged her but I turned around and looked at her. She was wearing her county colours. I felt profoundly sad because I thought to myself that this was probably a really good woman involved in her community and the GAA. I started to visualise the things she probably did in her community but what she said was profoundly racist and offensive. She probably did not think for a moment there was anything wrong with it. It just came out of her, "You dirty tinker". It was something deep inside. In recent days, somebody in my company who is a good person and should know better, said, "He is nothing but a gypsy". That was the worst possible thing he could have said about this other person. I challenged him and we had a conversation about it. These are two people who said the most appallingly awful racist things about a section of our people. This is the damage being done. It is deeply ingrained. Some embraced the settled way for generations and there is nothing wrong with that life. It is an honourable life but so is the Traveller culture. Somehow we came far apart and now demonise those who come from the nomadic ways.
Here we were, a few weeks ago, in the modern-day settled community in Derry and Tyrone celebrating our Gaelic history. Deep within it is the Traveller history and the people who continued with the nomadic ways. They are the people who could not let go of moving around the country and roaming from place to place. Of course, they also took the ancient ways with them, including our language, songs, mythology and identity. This is a core part of the story of Irish history but rather than embracing it and working with it we have demonised it.
The importance of the Bill today is that we must turn the ship around. I know the Minister shares my passion for this. It is not just my passion because in recent years an Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality not once but twice unanimously passed a report recognising the ethnicity of the Irish Traveller people. We also had State recognition in 2017, which was a very proud day. The next very proud day will be when the Minister takes this legislation and works in partnership with Senator Kelleher to take it through the Dáil and get it passed. The prize will be that we will turn around the massive mistakes we have made, beginning with no better people than the young children in our schools, by teaching them our true history, which means teaching them that we have made mistakes. I applaud the Minister on the decision he made recently to keep the teaching of history on the curriculum in secondary schools. It was a very important and correct decision because if we do not know where we came from we cannot know where we are, and if we do not know where we are we cannot know where we are going, as a person famously said. History is core. We learn from the wonderful enriching part of it but we also learn from the mistakes. If we do not learn from the mistakes we will make them again. We will be doomed to repeat them.
There are wonderful things to learn from Traveller history but there are also huge mistakes that the State needs to deal with. We need to reverse this and there is no better place to do so than in our schools with our young children, so we do not have another generation growing up with this virus of racism towards a section of our own people. It is not just racism because today I have referenced two good people who made racist remarks, one behind me and one with me. They made them in ignorance because we have failed to teach the true history and reality of our Traveller people. The challenge now is to make sure we not only recognise the Traveller ethnicity of our people, and it was a wonderful day when it was recognised, but that we start to right the wrongs and teach the true history of all of our people in our schools and work in partnership with Traveller projects throughout the country so we have talks and days when we celebrate Traveller culture, perhaps once a year in schools. There are so many things we can do with this wonderful legislation that Senator Kelleher has drafted and brought here in partnership with many others from the Traveller community.
I appreciate that the Minister and Senator Kelleher are not on exactly the same page today but I believe their intentions are honourable.The objectives of both are to start to teach properly Traveller history in schools, not just to state it is something we might, could or may well do but that we are actually going to do it and that the inspectorate will make sure it is happening and that it is clear in the curriculum. The teaching of Traveller history must be encouraged and resourced by the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Justice and Equality.
We might not reach total consensus with the Minister today, but when we leave this Chamber, let us make sure the Bill will be presented very soon to the Dáil and that it will be agreeable to all in order that we will have another positive, constructive day when we can right the wrongs of the past.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House. I pay tribute to Senator Kelleher for all of the work she has put into the Bill. I also pay tribute to the members of her committee, but she has been the driving force behind the Bill. She made a contribution at the Joint Committee on Education and Skills when we were discussing it. Senator Mac Lochlainn has also been campaigning on the issue for a long time. When Senator Kelleher initiated the Bill, Senator Ruane who is not present and our former colleague Grace O'Sullivan were also involved in and supportive of it. I pay tribute to them also.
Much has been said in the debate. I understand from where the Minister is coming and believe he wants to deliver on the Bill and to have Traveller culture taught in schools. From my discussions with him, I am aware that he is very supportive. I understand there are some technical amendments the Department must introduce. I compliment the Minister on the research work he and his officials have carried out.
When I was a member of my local authority for ten years, I sat on the Traveller committee. I had a very good working relationship with many Travellers and learned an awful lot about Traveller culture and aspects of Traveller life. I often visited Travellers and had a cup of tea with them in their homes. I gained a lot of experience in my ten years on the committee and still have friends from the Traveller community. What I learned from them in that time was very good for me personally. It is important to have a debate on various aspects of culture and different beliefs. I believe the Minister wants to bring the measure forward in as meaningful a way as possible. While I understand Senator Kelleher cannot accept some of the ministerial amendments, I know that she has had a very good working relationship with the Minister who has operated an open-door policy with the Senator to date. I am sure that will continue to be the case.
I commend all those involved in taking Report Stage of the Bill in the House today.
I speak in support of the Bill. I am incredibly proud that the Civil Engagement group has been able to push it forward. I commend Senator Kelleher, in particular. I also commend Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin who worked with her, the advisory group and others who have moved the debate forward. As Senator Kelleher said, they have opened up the debate on multiple fronts and begun important, inclusive conversations about the reality of the lived Traveller experience in Ireland and also the importance of the Traveller contribution and its part in our national history and identity. They are linked with the fact that there is an Oireachtas Traveller group, of which I am very proud to be a member, and the fact that we now have the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. Our colleague Senator Ruane is Vice Chairman of the committee and has engaged specifically with the Joint Committee on Education and Skills. She is sorry that she cannot be here to support the Bill in the House today.
I am pleased that the Minister is embracing the spirit of the legislation. That is important. However, I hope that as it progresses, he will look to see how we can move from a symbolic space into a substantive space. When talking about Traveller culture, it is very striking from the audit that Travellers' experiences are found mainly in civic, social and political education, CSPE, not history, despite their major contribution to our history. Trhey have kept alive a significant amount of what we regard as our national heritage in traditional music, songs and stories. So many of the champions in that regard have been Travellers, but it has been made invisible in our international celebration of these traditions. In the business word we think of tin smiths in a Traveller context. The nomadic element of Traveller culture is also part of our shared national story. In all of these areas there are real lived experiences, both historical and current, that must be reflected and part of the collective understanding.
As other speakers said, it was very moving when Mr. Oein de Bhairdúin spoke about the fact that each individual child should not be tasked with representing or carrying the full explanation of their existence. No child wants to have to justify his or her existence or explain it. A wider understanding must be part of the approach taken. I know that the Minister is sincere, but I would like the Bill to copper-fasten the teaching of Traveller history because in the future we might not have a Minister with similar sincerity or the same level of interest because he or she had not dived in as deeply as the Minister on these issues.
The Minister spoke eloquently about the importance of history and making it a mandatory part of every child's learning. He referred to the past, the lessons it could teach us and how it linked us with the world in which we lived. He wants every child to have those key elements. When we talk about the past, there is great wealth in the Traveller contribution to history and culture, that important thread that runs through our shared fabric of history. However, there are lessons we need to learn about how the education system has treated Travellers, a matter about which Senator Mac Lochlainn spoke eloquently. In the past there was hostility in the education system to Traveller culture and history. We are not starting from a neutral place. That is the reason we need Traveller history to be taught. We are not starting with a tabula rasabut from an historical situation where work involving repair and reparation is required to address the misinformation, fear and hostile messages disseminated that have lodged in the subconscious of 50, 60 and 70 year olds who were once children aged eight or nine years in a classroom who only heard damaging messages about the Traveller community. In some cases those messages have lodged in the minds of Travellers who have only been given negative messages about their place in society. That is the reason what we have put in the Bill matters. That is why we want to focus on teaching Traveller culture, not simply encouraging or suggesting it as an add-on and saying it might be a nice element to consider.
Repair work must be done in the education system. The Bill offers a positive, constructive step towards that repair work which links with the other message of the Minister about how the history of the country is linked with that of the world in which we live. One of the many benefits of making sure Traveller culture and history are taught as part of our education is not simply a better understanding of ourselves, the country and the true, wide and full experience of living in Ireland but also internationally. It has been mentioned that in New Zealand, Austria and Canada they are beginning to look properly at indigenous minorities to make sure their history is taught. Reference was made to the efforts in Spain to recognise the Roma tradition across Europe. The Sinti is another group. There are indigenous minorities across the entire world. It is good for Irish children to understand the diversity in the world is reflected in their own country. It makes them better able to engage in the conversations we are having globally on diversity. Recognising that every country is made up of many strands and communities builds bridges globally in our understanding of a shared world.I acknowledge the artists, cultural practitioners, legal practitioners and those with many other strands of expertise in the Traveller community.
I will now focus specifically on the legislative process. I regret the Minister's amendments. To promote is not the same as to teach. Promotion is not the same as pedagogy. Pedagogy is about learning and bringing someone along the steps. To promote is to ask somebody to take a look at something whereas teaching is bringing people along the steps and dismantling existing prejudices and misinformation. It is not simply about giving people new information but also about checking what misinformation exists among children and giving them a better, deeper understanding. I hope we can move towards a point where this Bill includes the word "teach" in a meaningful way, perhaps in the Dáil and perhaps worded in a different way, if necessary. Any Bill about education should have a vision of teaching and learning at its heart, not simply a vision of promotion.
On a practical level, the Minister mentioned the inspectorate changes and the curricular reform he expects to take place, starting in 2020 and proceeding into 2021. Can he assure the House that this Bill will have completed its journey in time to be reflected in the processes of 2020? We have a two-month or three-month period. I welcome the comments on the inspectorate, which are important, but to give substance to the idea that these issues will be reflected in the next round of policy formation or practice development within the Department, can the Minister assure us this Bill will travel through in time?
I hope the Minister will be able to champion it. The Minister mentioned a money message. Regardless of whether a money message is required, it is effectively meant to be an administrative formality. It is not a matter of a condition affecting whether a Bill can pass. If the Minister says he wants a money message produced, he can push for one to be produced. A money message was originally intended to be an administrative formality, designed simply to accompany a Bill to its next Stage. I hope the Minister will at least assure us, if not of the Bill's passage, of his intention to champion it and press for its passage in advance of December and to expedite any process in regard to a money message to ensure the Bill will pass in a timely manner, as is necessary.
I welcome the Minister. It is lovely to see him here. I am a great supporter of this Bill. Senator Kelleher is a magnificent champion of the Traveller community.
I want to make three points. Yesterday I had to give evidence to the Oireachtas committee on Travellers. I was asked to talk about what can be done about mental health in the Traveller community. Many statistics were circulated such as, for example, that 90% of male travellers will not reach the age of 60 and that young male Travellers are seven times more likely to die by suicide than young male non-Travellers. Young female Travellers are six more times more likely to commit suicide than young female non-Travellers. All these statistics were thrown out but they have been thrown out for years. There have been many promises and reports on what we are to do about the Traveller community, yet nothing has been done. When this Bill passes through the House today, will the same thing happen? As with many Bills that have passed through the Seanad, will this one just lie there and gather dust? I have dealt with the Minister before and know he is a very sincere man. While he cannot pass the Bill through the Dáil, he certainly can pick out a champion who might do it for Senator Kelleher.
Senator Mac Lochlainn mentioned attitudes of the people of our generation who used words such as "tinker" and "gypsy". We are never going to change the ingrained attitudes of our generation; we are blowing against the wind. The only way change can happen is through our children. We are taught all the time by our children. I am taught all the time by nine year olds and ten year olds how to use the iPhone and the Internet, for example. They will also teach us respect and how to accord dignity to a very important section of our community.
The Title of this Bill, the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill, reflects a certain sense of pride. By owning that Title, which implies we need to teach our children Traveller culture and history, we are expressing how proud we are of the Traveller community. It is about time we started to show this. We can only do so through legislation and changing the whole attitude of the people.
I will speak to the Bill in a moment but I ask the Acting Chairman to allow me to thank the Minister for being on site in Artane this morning. It was very decent of him to do so. I was just coming from the school, which had suffered from an horrendous fire. That the Minister was present in person was of great comfort to the school. The school community and the children are devastated. Some of the teachers of the school are past pupils. The community appreciates the Minister's work. Perhaps his Department could work with the local authority fire officers across the country to assuage some of the fears about school buildings. I hope that, in a number of weeks, we will have a better tale to tell about the state of our buildings. At the site of the school in question, there is room for prefabs to be constructed. The school community will rally around. I thank the community for being so vigilant in informing the fire brigade the first thing this morning.
I lost my seat in the last general election and was reminded of it a number of times in the months afterwards by people who told me I spent too much time talking about Travellers. That is the kind of attitude that exists in our society. The education system reflects the State and its value. It reflects who we are. For far too long in this country, the education system has been for a certain section of society, possibly comprising a majority of society, and everybody else had to fit in. The system was not for the latter. I taught in a particularly disadvantaged school. The history, geography, mathematics and Irish books did not really reflect their experiences at all. These were not Irish-dancing children but children who liked disco dance. They did not play Gaelic games but played soccer. Their history was one of the flats, tuberculosis, lockouts, dock work and leaving school at 14. Theirs was as valid a history as any other — as valid as the history in An tOileánachor Peig. The history books did not necessarily reflect their Ireland and what they knew to be true. It felt almost as if one were trying to squeeze children to understand an official Ireland when an official Ireland did not necessarily respect, understand or even recognise them. If we do not accept this Bill, not just in spirit but in its entirety, how can we begin to imagine an education system that will embrace the African-Irish, Polish-Irish, Lithuanian-Irish and Brazilian-Irish communities? How can we begin to imagine an education system that will embrace, love and empower all those communities if we cannot do it for the indigenous Traveller community?
Senator Mac Lochlainn has spoken about this passionately over a number of years. The work of the Civil Engagement group of Senator Kelleher and others has been transformational in these Houses in getting people of different political backgrounds to come to an understanding of the necessity to move beyond where we always have been. Senator Mac Lochlainn has talked about the itinerancy report of the early 1960s, which always spoke about the Traveller issue as a problem that needs to be solved, and a problem that needs to be assimilated into what is normal as opposed to recognising what is right, just and decent, and what has an absolute right to exist and be celebrated. The celebration of a people was the whole argument about ethnicity. I thought we were getting somewhere when ethnicity was recognised by this Government, which garnered a level of celebration, but then an individual ran for the Presidency and completely and willfully misunderstood what ethnicity was all about yet secured 24% of the public vote, and one wonders. One wonders if a settled child who has never had an interaction with a Traveller child or Traveller family will get his or her information from? Will it be from the media or politics? God help us if we expect a child from the settled tradition to understand what the Traveller tradition is like if we expect him or her to learn from contemporary society, the media, politics, community and the society in which he or she lives. If that is the only avenue a settled child has to attain such understanding then he or she will just learn the prejudices, racism and wilful misunderstanding that I and most settled people grew up with. The State must take it upon itself, not as a concession or adopt a stance of "Ah, sure look it", but as a vindication of a right of a people that they are an intrinsic part of this nation and not something for which concessions must be made. Every Department needs to shift its mindset from one of this being a problem and something to facilitate. We do not have to talk about tolerance. People do not need to be tolerated. This nation needs to intrinsically understand the basic humanity of the existence of a community. Whether one hails from a flat complex in inner city Dublin, a Traveller community living on a halting site or from the place that seems to write all of the history books in official Ireland, one has as much of a right to one's history and tradition. Everyone on this island has the same right to his or her history and tradition in terms of the entirety of the nation.
We have relegated identities but promoted other identities. That makes somebody from one of the relegated identities feel that the education is not theirs, that it does not celebrate them or believe in them. Relegation makes a Traveller feel that if he or she wants to get anywhere in his or her life then one must pretend to be settled in order to get somewhere. The history books tell Travellers that the people who have led this country or performed greatly in this country and are celebrated are not like them so they must change. It is a devastating message to convey to a Traveller child aged eight, nine or ten that if he or she wants to get anywhere he or she will have to be a little less Traveller.
It is awful for parents in this country when they realise that if their children are going to get somewhere they will have to be a little bit different from what they are, that what parents have passed on to their children and in terms of the way they are being raised, these children must be a little bit less than that to be accepted. People have said that we cannot control all of that, and we cannot control the prejudices that people of a certain generation have, and I mean my generation and older. We cannot control that necessarily but we can control an element of that in the education system.
For us to consider this Bill as a concession to lobbying is a massive mistake. The people in the Department of Education and Skills should be tripping over themselves to congratulate Senator Kelleher, the Civil Engagement group and other Senators in this House and Deputies in the other House for wanting to promote the Bill. It reflects well on the Oireachtas that this is being promoted, asked for and demanded.
I suggest to the Minister that the hearts of nine year olds are easily broken and it is pretty devastating to learn that one is just not important enough because of who one is. We were in Artane this morning. The school will be rebuilt and in years to come the incident will be a bad memory. The community will get together again and things will be okay because there is enough love in that area. If one is a nine year old who discovers that because one is a Traveller and because the school textbooks and everything around the child in the school tells one that one must change a little bit to get on in life because there is nothing worth celebrating about one, and everything that one asks for is a concession from what is really is the mainstream because a person, as a Traveller, is not mainstream then that is a heartbreaking realisation to come to terms with. I would not want any child to come to that realisation.
This legislation is a lot about emotion, a beating heart and identity, which can be difficult to put into hard legalistic text. I know that the Department hates legislation because it lived by circulars for years, which is fine. This is hard legislation that seeks to underpin the identity rights of a people who are part of our nation. I shall repeat the following for the benefit of the Minister. If young children of this nation do not learn from their State-funded school - the organ of the State - about Traveller culture, heritage and to celebrate Traveller life then where else will they hear it?
The Labour Party group supports the Bill and will work with others to get it over the line. I appeal to the Minister to appeal to the better part of himself because he is a progressive Minister who believes in the right things in terms of education. I know in the cold light of day that he can improve on the amendments that he has tabled and make the Bill something that we can all be proud of.
I thank the Acting Chairman for his indulgence. I should have replaced him by now but I want to comment while the Minister is present. This morning, I was in communication with the Minister about Scoil Chaitriona Cailíní. I had a couple of classes from the school in here during the summer and the kids are just fabulous. This morning's development was heartbreaking. The Minister has met the school principal and staff. I appreciate him meeting them so quickly. There is no timeframe as yet but time is of the essence and we need people to be accommodated as soon as possible. As Senator Ó Ríordáin said, the incident is a huge blow to the community. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. We need to be very grateful to the emergency services, the gardaí and the fire services who limited the damage done to the junior school. Extensive damage has been caused to the school, especially to the senior school. I hope that we will be in a position to accommodate the children in the very near future, which needs to happen quite quickly.
I support the Bill. My colleague has spoken on the Bill. I listened to her on the monitor and concur with her comments. We have a few technical amendments but support the Bill.
I am happy to comment now. It is an absolute pleasure for me to come into this House every time and I do not say that because I am a former Senator. I think it was Senator Ruane who referred to me as a Senator. I accept the title of "Senator" even though I was elected one in 2002. She referred to us as "lowly Senators" and sought somebody to champion the Bill.I must disagree vehemently with the Senator on that point. The Upper House is a really important place for debate.
While I acknowledge we are a wee bit apart at this point in terms of the Government amendments, I will reiterate and rationalise what we are trying to do. There was a collective call for momentum to try to reach our destination. For what it is worth, when I give my word as a politician, I stand by it. I appreciate the comments from Senators on my decision regarding history. That was something I committed to doing in my first month in the job and to which I gave a great deal of thought. I was advised to go a certain way but I kept my ear to the ground and there were plenty of people in this House willing to give me their view, for which I thank them.
There are four Government amendments, which seek to address the two main concerns we have regarding these proposals. The first concern is that they would mean that I, as Minister, would effectively be dictating to the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment in its area of functionality. Our second concern is that by embedding these provisions in legislation, we would be prescribing a subject for the first time. Maths, Irish and English are not prescribed through legislation. What is being proposed here represents a departure and we have concerns in that regard. I received political proposals from different quarters asking me to legislate to ensure that history would be a mandatory subject on the junior cycle curriculum. I did not like it and it is not in my nature to legislate for a particular subject. In the end, the decision we made in regard to history was to move it from optional to mandatory. In fact, we spent six months trying to find a word that would offer a middle ground between optional and mandatory. We all have our opinions on the words "compulsory" and "mandatory" and giving direction in that regard. As Donegal men, Senator Mac Lochlainn and I do not like being told what to do. However, having not found a middle ground between optional and mandatory, it seemed to me that I had no choice but to go for the latter. I feel it was the right thing to do.
Senator Kelleher wrote to me, once my decision was announced, asking that I review all the damage that has been inflicted on our society by ourselves down through the years in the context of society's tolerance of homophobia, prejudice towards members of the Traveller community, racism, sexism etc. The list goes on. We are trying to repair much of that damage and I am seeking out the best possible vehicle to do so. I again give my word that there will be momentum in bringing things forward. I would love to be in a position to say that we can go to the next step immediately but we will have to see how things go with the voting on the amendments. To reiterate, the legal advice is that the Bill as it stands would create a situation whereby the only subject area prescribed by law in the jurisdiction would be Traveller culture and history, thereby granting it a different status compared with all other subjects.
One of the things the inspectorate is always keen to point out to me is that its specific function is to inspect teaching and learning. It is intended, in line with the monitoring of the implementation of other Department of Education and Skills policies in schools, that the current school self-evaluation process and the evaluation visits by the inspectorate will provide the basis by which implementation of the principles of the Bill would be evaluated. I understand the concern that if something is not sufficiently embedded in law, it will become a mere conversation piece. As we all know, an election is coming up, whenever it may be, and there could soon be somebody else in my role. However, the point I wish to emphasise is that in order to make things happen, one has to give direction. In regard to history, I have put together a direction to the NCCA on what I want to see happening. It is up to the NCCA to build that into the future place of history in the junior cycle curriculum. My ambition and motivation are to ensure, whatever comes out at the end of this legislation, that we just get on with it and take all the issues into account. I was at a literacy and numeracy event this morning where there was discussion about the maths curriculum, trying to make it relevant and set the context. It is not just about sitting down in silos doing algebra, the theorem of Pythagoras or multiplication, division and subtraction in isolation, but how all of those aspects are relevant to the entire curriculum.
In this particular subject area, as Senator Higgins pointed out, there are so many aspects, including geography, the nomadic movement of people and the particular history of the Traveller community. It is not just about one prescriptive area. A point I wish to emphasise is that the people who are designing the curriculum in the primary sector and the people undertaking the leaving certificate review are considering, as part of their work, how creativity and arts can be threaded into subjects. That is something we should take into account, to see how we can we use arts in a better, more formal way to promote an understanding of the intrinsic nature of the Traveller community.
Several speakers referred to amendment No. 4. There is no commencement order set out in this Bill, which means that once it was passed, there would be a requirement to provide the subject without having any preparatory work done and without consulting different people from within the Traveller community. Our concern is that we do not have any resources in place or proper professional development training for teachers. We would be telling schools that they are ready to go, even though that is not the case. That is the concern we seek to address in this amendment.
Senator Kelleher talked about the timeline, which I have already addressed. Senator Higgins referred to Fr. Micheál MacGréil, a former lecturer of mine and author of Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland. I remember attending a class of his in 1989 at which he presented a great deal of sociological data analysis. That analysis showed that, at the time, Travellers were the group against which people in this country had the most prejudice, with the Garda in second place. I met Fr. MacGréil some years later and he was looking to do further research in that area. Prejudice and discrimination against members of the Traveller community is still a major problem in this country.
Senator Kelleher spoke about the need for momentum to implement change. I appreciate her point that we deal with a lot of legislation in these Houses which gets to a particular Stage but is not subsequently progressed. Once again, I give a personal commitment to making progress on this issue. I do not want to see another generation of young Travellers having to go through what previous generations did. I may talk presently about my personal experience of working with the Traveller community in the 1990s.
Senator Kelleher outlined a proposed amendment to section 37 of the Education Act 1998. I cannot accept such an amendment because it would raise the same issues concerning the prescribing of the curriculum in schools. The Teaching Council regulates standards for initial teacher education, subject to the policy of the Minister. The way it works is that the council sets out the standards for initial teacher education and each higher education institution then sets out its own curriculum within those parameters. What the Senator is proposing would represent a significant departure. I take her point that sometimes when one is on the rocky road trying to do something that will have a high impact, one needs to go ahead and make the change. I am reluctant to do it, however, because of the precedent it would set.
Senator Mac Lochlainn argued that we must call out the problems as they are. That is what we want to do as part of dealing with them.It is correct to state that people may not even be aware of their own commentary and that they are making racist or prejudiced remarks. Understanding is crucial here, as is trying to get a consensus regarding how to get working on righting the wrongs that have been happening. We have a responsibility to deal with issues like this, whether that is the matter we are discussing or other issues such as homophobia, ageism, racism or sexism.
Senator Byrne made reference to the meaningful way in which we have to proceed. I have an open door policy. My door is so open at the moment on this issue that I feel there is no door at all. We are not going to put on a door and we will continue to engage on the issue to see if we get a clear picture of what our destination looks like. I am happy to do that.
Senator Higgins referred to the spirit, symbolism and substantiveness of the legislation. She spoke not just about arts but also about music. We can use many vehicles to work together on a cross-subject area rather than just in a silo manner. Senator Freeman mentioned that it was important to keep the momentum going and she also spoke about young people teaching our generation. It would be remiss of me if I did not point out that we can fall into dangers when we start to group and classify people. My generation, and older, has many tolerant people. There are many people who would not like to be labelled as not emphasising tolerance, respect or dignity just because they belong to a certain generation. I refer also to the track record of our education system. We could go back some 1,500 years to St. Columbanus, to whom an inscription is dedicated in Rome. It reads "If you take away liberty, you take away dignity". It is no different regarding people's freedom to be intrinsic members of a community and a lack of respect regarding their ethnicity. Once freedom has been taken away, so has dignity. We can also learn that from our past.
I thank Senators Ó Ríordáin and Noone for their comments regarding Artane primary school. I am deviating a little now. I give a big shout out to the community whose members were so warm and welcoming this morning. I also acknowledge the trauma. The daughter of a friend and neighbour of mine works in that school. I did not meet her when I was out there, but she messaged me to say she is absolutely devastated. She is a young teacher and all of her collection of books, materials and resources are now gone and she is devastated today. As Senator Ó Ríordáin pointed out, or perhaps it was Senator Noone, there were no tragic consequences regarding what was lost in the fire. At the same time, however, it is a massive hurt. There was a new library in the school, which the community had put finance towards as well. I give my full commitment to helping everyone involved get back to where they want to be, which is in the classroom and learning.
Our own history was mentioned. One of the changes in the junior cycle history curriculum is that it will now look at local history. There is not one parish in Ireland that does not have some local historical connection to the Traveller community. I think back to my own house when a member of the Traveller community used to call around on a bicycle and visit us from time to time. That local history is very important in paving a way to breeding tolerance and instilling confidence that we are all part of one society, although ethnicity has to be respected.
I was recently in a school in Letterkenny where some 42 nationalities were represented. Senator Ó Ríordáin referred to other nationalities. When I was in that school, a young girl in fifth class stood up and made a really beautiful statement. She said, "We are an international community steeped in the tradition of Letterkenny". It was one of the most beautiful explanations of where we have gone and evolved to as a society. Within that context, we have to be fully inclusive and I know that is Senator Kelleher's end goal with this legislation.
I will conclude by referencing my own experience working with members of the Traveller community from 1997 right through to almost 1999. I remember working hard with young members of the Traveller community to try and develop a proper programme that would interest them. For some of them, that interest lay not in the homework club, not in climbing mountains, not in playing football nor in doing any of the creative arts. I stuck it out with them to find out exactly what it was they wanted. I will never forget the day when I brought them into the office and I asked them what they really wanted to do. The answer was that they wanted to go to my father's farm. We did that on three occasions and that was something that those members of the Traveller community wanted to do.
We are trying to find a space that members of the Traveller community want themselves. Senator Kelleher has done her consultation regarding the amendments I proposed. I do have my reasons, however, for putting those amendments forward. I want to move forward, facilitate and make this legislation happen. I do not want to be in any sense accused of holding it up or anything like that. I really want to work together on this and I appreciate goodwill that exists, but I do have legal and valid reasons for doing what I am doing. Let us see what happens with these amendments, as I am pressing them.
I do, but I will keep it brief. I am disappointed. I would have liked for us to be closer today, but I feel we have the basis for further conversation. We can do more work when this Bill goes to the Dáil. I thank Oein de Bhairdúin who guided me through this Bill and so much more. I also thank the members of the Traveller advisory group, which informed the audit, the Irish Traveller Movement and other NGOs, local and national. I thank everybody who shared their stories, some of which were painful at times, as well as all those who spoke at briefings. My eyes continue to be opened and my world broadened all of the time. I know I mangle my words sometimes, but they have also been expanded in their range. I appreciate what these people teach me. That is not their job, but I am learning.
I thank my own team of Ben Meany, listening in from Brussels, the recently arrived but fully-fledged Hannah Twomey and, of course, Aengus Ó Maoláin for his wisdom and expertise. I also thank Mr. James Kane, the barrister who drafted the Bill, the Public Law Interest Alliance, PILA, and my colleagues, Senators Ruane, Higgins, Dolan, Black and former Senator, Grace O'Sullivan, who is now also in Brussels. I thank all of the other Senators for their support as well. I also thank the Minister, his advisors and his officials.
We are not talking about a great number of people, only some 40,000, which is half the crowd in Croke Park on all-Ireland day.The Traveller community is Ireland's only ethnic minority. The ground to travel was taken from under them; local authorities handed back money for the accommodation they needed and were entitled to and heartless people turned away even when families and children burned. School is a cold place, ignorant of who they are, where they came from and come from, where their hours are reduced or they drop out because they are bullied, their spirit and identity not acknowledged and not cherished. Teachers do not know or teach their history even when the Department issues them with guidelines and 80% of these industrious people are unemployed in an economy with full employment, their average life expectancy being 61, the life expectancy of the general population in the 1940s, but now 75 for the rest of us. Their babies are three times more likely to die and most days what they hear are harsh words and hate words, with hotels cancelling funeral gatherings and weddings when they know who they are. Travellers are to the front of the queue for cuts and not much else. Traveller men are seven times more likely to take their own lives than the general population and Traveller women six times more likely to do so. Many Travellers have lost six, seven and eight family members to suicide. They are resilient people who stay strong in the face of this adversity. We are told that education is the hope to break the cycle of racism, prejudice and discrimination, that through knowledge and learning by us all, we will know better and this means we can almost certainly do better.
Today, the Minister, Deputy McHugh, has the opportunity to reflect on what he has heard in this House and to, perhaps, change his mind. In championing the passage of the Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018, he will join the ranks of courageous politicians like Deputy Enda Kenny for his historic recognition of Travellers as an ethnic minority; Donogh O'Malley for free second level education; Niamh Breathnach for free third level education; Máire Geoghegan-Quinn for decriminalising homosexuality; Deputy Micheál Martin for the smoking ban; Deputy Adams and the late Martin McGuinness for the Good Friday Agreement and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, for safe abortion care in Ireland.
I am a Taoiseach's nominee. The Taoiseach stated prejudice has no place in this republic. Will the Minister please champion the passage of this strong Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill into the Dáil and into law? In doing so, he will be making history and joining the ranks of politicians who break the mould and do the right thing.
I thank my officials for their work on this Bill. Senator Kelleher asked if I would prioritise this Bill progressing to the Dáil. I am happy to facilitate that and to keep her and the Seanad informed of progress. History will truly be made when there is somebody from the Traveller community standing where I am standing today. Since the foundation of the State there has been 40 Ministers for education. History will be made when that portfolio is held by a member of the Traveller community. I thank the leadership across the grassroots spectrum working with Traveller communities down through the years, of whom there are a number in Donegal with whom I have worked closely in the past. I salute them for their work and efforts in this area. The journey is far from over.