Minister for Culture accused of insulting Traveller artists

Josepha Madigan defends sending question on heritage funding to Department of Justice

 Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan:  insisted she has nothing to apologise for. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan: insisted she has nothing to apologise for. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw for The Irish Times

 

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan has insisted she has nothing to apologise for in sending a parliamentary question on funding for Traveller heritage projects to the Department of Justice to answer.

Labour’s spokeswoman for the arts Joan Burton accused the Minister of insulting Traveller artists and called on her to apologise for her actions.

“Are there other artists that your department deals with that when they raise issues they are transferred to the Department of Justice?” she said in the Dáil on Wednesday after she raised the issue with Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

But Ms Madigan replied that the “simple reason” the question was transferred is that Minister of State for Justice and Equality David Stanton “is the lead department in relation to the Traveller culture, identity and heritage in its overall terms”.

In October, Ms Burton asked Ms Madigan about funding for the Travellers’ Journey exhibition at the National Museum in Co Mayo, and about funding for tinsmithing and the Traveller language Cant. The question was transferred from the Department of Culture to Mr Stanton in the Department of Justice to deal with.

‘Cogent argument’

The Labour TD quoted the Ceann Comhairle’s response when she wrote to him about the matter. He said, “I can understand the frustration of transfers of PQs [parliamentary questions] such as the one cited by you. You make cogent argument in your letter to me as to why the PQ should have been answered by the Minister for Culture rather than the Minister for Justice.”

Ms Burton said Ms Madigan’s answer was “seriously deficient” and she asked the Minister “why you will not directly answer questions in relation to Travellers”.

She said the Minister had made remarks on previous occasions about Traveller housing.

“I’m sorry that you feel that way but it is a technical matter between departments. It’s certainly not coloured by my own views in relation to Travellers at all and I’m sure you’re not suggesting that,” the Minister replied.

They are deserving of your recognition and your respect as Minister for Culture

Ms Madigan has previously been embroiled in controversy over her opposition to the building of a Traveller halting site in her Dublin constituency.

The Minister said in her reply that the Traveller community has a rich culture, with unique traditions and crafts, and her department had a number of initiatives to support the recording and celebration of Traveller culture and heritage.

Cultural practices

In July she launched an intangible cultural heritage initiative which marked official State recognition of cultural practices including Traveller tinsmithing and the traditional Traveller language Cant.

The Minister said the National Museum was establishing a steering committee including representatives of the Traveller community, but Ms Burton asked “why will you not set up an-interdepartmental committee in your department to bring together people like Traveller musicians, actors, writers and other artists”.

She said, “They are deserving of your recognition and your respect as Minister for Culture.”

Ms Madigan said her department participated in the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy steering group, but it was only one of a number of departments dealing with commitments on Traveller culture, identity and heritage.