A Traveller woman’s experience of discrimination, including being arrested a number of times when she protested at not being allowed into shops, propelled her back to education, where she gained a law degree.
Margaret O’Leary, who left school at 14, was married by 19 and has had four children, was among seven members of her community honoured at the sixth annual Traveller Pride Awards yesterday.
"I lived in England and I'd experience discrimination for being Irish there, but never for being a Traveller,"the Dublin woman said.
"I wasn't used to discrimination when I moved back here. I couldn't understand why I couldn't go into McDonalds or into Penneys or the supermarket. I was arrested and put in a garda car sometimes when I'd kick up about not being allowed into a shop.
“I realised life here for Travellers is one of discrimination and division against the legal system, so I decided I would be involved in the legal system.”
She returned to education, completed her Junior and Leaving Certificates, and then got a scholarship to study law.
She won in the education category at the event hosted by the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM).
(12), from Clondalkin in Dublin, won in the youth category for her development of an anti-bullying app.
“I was getting bullied for being a Traveller and that left me feeling quite angry, quite upset,” she said. Kathleen hopes the app will now be made available to the public.
Introducing the awards, Brigid Quilligan, ITM director, said some Travellers still hid their identity, "either because they don't want to, or can't, promote their identity".
“Minority groups who have been marginalised and oppressed struggle to preserve their identity. We have gay pride, black pride, Roma pride. It is up to us as Travellers to set the agenda and say loudly that we are a proud people, proud of our culture and proud of our identity.”
Minister of State for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he was “determined” 2015 would be the year of meaningful reform of the direct provision regime and when Traveller ethnicity would be recognised by the State.
“How proud would we all be today if
recognised the wonderful contribution of the Travelling community to our Irish nation?”
He said he was working hard to raise awareness of Traveller ethnicity. “There are still people who need to be convinced,” he said.
“We are going to have a round-table discussion with all the Traveller groups with all the departments who have questions they want to have answered.
“I am determined that 2015 will not only be the year of Yes for LGBT people, it will be Yes equality for people in direct provision centres and it will be Yes equality for Travellers as well.”