The Irish Times view on anti-Traveller discrimination: a voice in the Seanad
The powerful symbolism of Eileen Flynn’s appointment should not obscure the problems faced by Travellers in Ireland
Eileen Flynn, from Ballyfermot in Dublin, will be first Traveller to sit in the upper house, and her presence there will give an important platform to one of Ireland’s most isolated minorities. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The failure to include a voice from Northern Ireland among the Taoiseach’s 11 Seanad nominees was a disappointing omission at a time when the work of cross-Border relationship-building is perhaps more important than at any time since the 1990s. At the same time, the nomination of another of the Taoiseach’s 11 – Traveller activist Eileen Flynn – provided a moment for genuine celebration.
Racist attitudes towards the community remain far too prevalent and contribute towards the high unemployment rate
Flynn, from Ballyfermot in Dublin, will be the first Traveller to sit in the upper house, and her presence there will give an important platform to one of Ireland’s most isolated minorities. She would give voice to a community that had for too long gone unheard, Flynn said in her maiden speech on Monday. Her appointment comes three years after the State recognised Travellers as an ethnic minority, a status for which the community had fought a long campaign.
Yet the powerful symbolism of Flynn’s presence in the Seanad should not obscure the very real, and in some cases worsening, problems faced by Travellers in Ireland. Racist attitudes towards the community remain far too prevalent and contribute towards the high unemployment rate and the refusal of councillors across the country to fulfil their duty to provide for Traveller accommodation. The suicide rate among Travellers was estimated to be seven times the national average last year, and support groups speak of a mental health crisis in the community.
Just this week, in a statement to mark the 20th anniversary of the EU’s Race and Equality Directive, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission said the country’s treatment of Travellers had been “a dark shadow on our democracy for generations”. It referred to “endemic racism, at street level and from organs of the State”, and noted the effects of discrimination on generations of Travellers in politics, the jobs market, education, health and life expectancy.
Eileen Flynn’s presence in the Seanad will enhance that institution and marks an important milestone. But Ireland is only starting out on the road to real equality for her community.