State papers 1986: School attempted to segregate Travellers

Dublin school wanted hygiene screening for Traveller students, documents show

Ms Justice Mella Carroll said a Dublin school board had used two Traveller boys ‘as pawns’. Photograph: Pat Langan

Ms Justice Mella Carroll said a Dublin school board had used two Traveller boys ‘as pawns’. Photograph: Pat Langan


The board of management of a primary school in Loughlinstown, Co Dublin, refused to take two young Traveller boys unless they had a class of their own, a hygiene screening service and other aids, according to documents from the State papers of 1986.

The documents, in a file from the attorney general’s office, included an affidavit sworn by Sheila Nunan, a liaison teacher for Traveller children.

In it, she said the boys lived in permanent housing in Ballybrack, and their nearest school was Archbishop John Charles McQuaid NS.

She said that on various occasions, after consultation with the boys’ mother, she had sought admission for the boys, but was told it was the “policy of the school not to admit pupils who did not belong to the settled community”.

She said in May 1985, on further application, the board of management of the school refused to consider enrolling the boys unless three conditions were fulfilled, including “the provision of a specialist to teach such children in their own special class”, “a service to ensure an acceptable standard of hygiene” and “unspecified specialist teaching aids”.

The board indicated that it was their view that it was “not in the interests of the Travelling children that they should be integrated with normal streams for some time”.

High Court

The boys’ mother sued the State on behalf of the boys, documents show. A note on the file dated April 8th, 1986 said When the case came before the High Court in January, the only issue was legal costs, as the children had been accepted into the school.

In her judgment, Ms Justice Mella Carroll “sharply criticised” the school’s board of management and said they had used the boys “as pawns” in an attempt to force the Department of Education to provide special classes for them. She awarded no costs.

The State papers are released by the National Archives every December. They are currently subject to a 30 year delay, although the Government pledged last year to begin phasing out the long-standing 30-year rule and move towards a 20-year time limit.