‘It gave me the opportunity to break down barriers’ - Eileen Flynn

Further Education: Newly appointed senator says a piece of paper is no proof of anyone’s ability to make a success of themselves

Traveller activist and recently appointed senator Eileen Flynn (30) says a piece of paper is no proof of anyone's ability to make a success of themselves.

She's talking about her time, a decade ago now, at Ballyfermot College of Further Education where she completed courses in pre-nursing and caring for people with special needs.

“If you are able to complete those courses, build up relationships with other people, that is success in itself,” she explains.

“It gave me the opportunity to break down barriers I had with settled people. When I say barriers, it gave me the skills to deal with people in other settings asking me silly questions about things like Travellers not paying taxes.


“It gave me skills to be able to explore all that, to be able to answer, to be able to speak.

“It helped me to be able to have conversations about these issues, to be open to listening to people and their thoughts around Travellers rather than getting annoyed. It was a great environment for me.”

Flynn was diagnosed with dyslexia in secondary school. She attended an Access Programme at Trinity College but felt it failed to support her needs. Ballyfermot College, however, was different.

“Ballyfermot supported me and helped me find my confidence,” she says. “A lot of the lectures are done through conversation. If you have a question, you can raise your hand and have a discussion about it. That’s how I learn.

“It was a very interactive class. You can ask questions without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. The classes are smaller and the lecturer has time to spend with students and engage with them.

“You could meet any of the lecturers that you wanted after college or lunchtime. I wasn’t great at biology in the pre-nursing – I didn’t fail it either – I got over the line, but that was with the supports from the tutor.

“For me personally, I didn’t feel judged in the class because I had dyslexia or because I was a Traveller. People had an interest in my background, and people had an interest in each other’s lives.”

In terms of the skills she learned that are of most use to her today, Flynn says it helped her to find her voice.

“As a young Traveller woman, I had never been in with settled people,” she says. “It helped me with my social skills. It helped me in speaking to people and being able to approach people even in the way I do today. It opened up my eyes to the world, if you like.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter