Austerity era cuts must be reversed, says Traveller activist

Irish Traveller Movement director Brigid Quilligan is honoured at UCC

RTÉ broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan with Traveller activist Brigid Quilligan after they were  conferred with  honorary doctorates at UCC. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

RTÉ broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan with Traveller activist Brigid Quilligan after they were conferred with honorary doctorates at UCC. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

Traveller activist Brigid Quilligan spoke of the need to reverse funding cuts which hit the Traveller community hard during the austerity years as she received an honorary doctorarate from University College Cork on Friday.

Ms Quilligan, who is originally from Limerick and now lives in Killarney, Co Kerry, was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Law - said to be the first honour of its type for a Traveller - in acknowledgement of her leadership in securing State recognition for Travellers as a distinct ethnic identity.

The eldest of 11 siblings, she said her parents had a huge respect and value for education, and pointed out there were plenty of role models for young Traveller children.

“I have three female friends who are doing doctorates. I have several doing Masters. The community is working very hard in the world of academia. I would pay tribute to the people out there who enter the world of academia. All of us need our role models. We need to see Travellers in all areas of society.”

Ms Quilligan said young Traveller children and teenagers could “keep their identity and be whoever they want to be.”

“However, the supports need to be put in place. The cuts during the austerity years need to be reversed to give children the support they need.”

Ms Quilligan said much of the critical commentary surrounding Travellers was unfair.

“There is unfair stereotyping. There is harsh criticism. A lot of people buy in to that. The change we are trying to create is a systemic change for our people and for minorities such as migrants. ”

At a personal level Ms Quilligan said it was a “special moment” for her family.

“I will have my 17 year old son Robbie with me and my partner. UCC is very strong in relation to the marginalised communities and I am not surprised that they decided to honour a Traveller activist. It is that type of institution.”

Other individuals honoured at the conferrings included Fr Pat Ahern, founder of Tralee folk theatre Siamsa Tíre; Michael Dowling, chairman of Kerry Group Plc; and RTÉ broadcaster Miriam O’Callaghan.