President calls for electricity and running water for all Traveller sites
First anniversary celebrations of Traveller ethnicity at Royal Hospital Kilmainham
Cousins, from left, Ann Doran (3) from Carlow and Maryann Connors (4) from Dundrum during the Irish Traveller Ethnicity Celebration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ellen McDonagh from Navan presents President of Ireland Michael D Higgins and Sabina Higgins with a miniature churn can created by a traditional tin smith during the Irish Traveller Ethnicity Celebration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
President Michael D Higgins has called for all Traveller sites, including temporary ones, to be provided with electricity and running water, and for school liaison supports to child members of the community to be reinstated.
Speaking to journalists at an event on Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the State’s recognition of Traveller ethnicity, Mr Higgins said he noticed a “new confidence” among Travellers.
“Looking at the young people you are struck by how the ethnicity recognition has encouraged a confidence, that there is really nothing that Travellers can’t do if the obstacles are removed,” he said. “I have to say, as President of Ireland, one of the things that runs through my mind regularly is all the misunderstandings that were unnecessary, the failures to actually deliver proper facilities for Travellers when the money was made available by the State.
“We should make a new beginning now we have an ethnicity recognition . . . We should start with a blank page and say, ‘Is it rocket science to put all of the temporary sites into good condition in terms of electricity and water and basic facilities?’ Surely it’s time now to put back the family liaison service that was there to encourage young Travellers to get beyond Junior Cert. These are things that can be done overnight with a stroke.”
The Home School liaison service, which supported Traveller children’s participation in school, was withdrawn during the recession.
On Thursday, several hundred people – both Travellers and settled – were invited to a day-long celebration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham marking the anniversary of former taoiseach Enda Kenny officially recognising Traveller ethnicity in a statement to the Dáil on March 1st, 2017.
Though it conferred no additional rights on the 30,000-strong community, it was hoped recognition would be a powerful symbolic statement of the value of Traveller identity, and gradually change mind-sets in both the Traveller and settled populations.
Almost all who spoke to The Irish Times at the event – which included exhibits, examples of Traveller enterprises, talks and demonstrations of Traveller arts, crafts and music – said little had changed for their community in the past year.
Sue-Ellen McCarthy had travelled from her home at the Spring Lane halting site in Cork city to the event. Though built originally for 10 families, she said some 31 families now lived there, in overcrowded conditions and without secure supplies of electricity or running water.
“If anything, things have got worse,” she said, adding that there were “16 of us sharing one toilet”.
Bridgie Casey, from Limerick, said ethnicity was “an important acknowledgement of who we are” but there was “a lot more to achieve”. She said it was particularly important “for the young people coming up now, to be able to take pride in who we are”.
Nadine Collins (10), a Traveller, described the project as “fun” and said she had not known the Traveller language Cant went back “hundreds of years”.
Carla Nolan (10), from the settled community, found her research “really interesting”, adding it was “sad” that Travellers had been “treated bad”. She hoped her Traveller class-mates would have “more opportunities”.
Nadine and her brother Peter (8) shrugged when asked if there was any difference between Traveller children and others.
“We feel no different. We feel proud.”