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Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# traveller ethnicity
Travellers left outside Leinster House in the rain as Taoiseach recognises their ethnicity
The incident has kicked off discussions about how the Dáil can better facilitate large crowds.

LONG TERM TRAVELLER rights activists were left in the rain outside the gates of Leinster House last night while the Taoiseach made a historic speech formally recognising their ethnicity.

The incident has kicked off discussions about how the Dáil can better facilitate large crowds during an event or debate, with the Oireachtas Business Committee being told there must be better planning in the future.

The timeline for the recognition of Traveller ethnicity had been well flagged, with the Enda Kenny announcing his intentions to formally recognise the ethnic group as far back November.

However, some have criticised the government for organising yesterday evening’s proceedings “at the last minute”.

AAA-PBP’s Bríd Smith and Ruth Coppinger said close to 200 Travellers were refused entry to Leinster House – including, Catherine Joyce, an activist for Traveller’s rights, who has been campaigning for decades.

“Last night really meant a lot to her,” said Coppinger.

For 30 years she had been fighting for this day.

So, what happened? 

Before Enda Kenny addressed the Dáil, Smith told the chamber that she had spent the previous half hour out at the gate, where there were approximately 150 to 200 Travellers who had come from all over Ireland to witness the historic occasion. “It is unusual,” she said.

She told the Dáil the AV room (which is a conference room situated to the side of Leinster House) and public gallery in the Dáil were full.

Smith asked the Ceann Comhairle whether it would be possible to open up the coffee dock area (which is situated on the complex and has a number of TV monitors) or some of the political party rooms to allow the Travellers inside to hear these proceedings.

A historic day 

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Coppinger said:

This is a historic occasion. I have never heard of a time when so many people have shown up for a debate. I have tried to speak with the Tánaiste. We cannot cite any precedent. Travellers have come to Leinster House from far and wide, but I submitted a list of names approximately 36 hours ago of people in the Irish Traveller Movement and other associations, for example, the Blanchardstown Traveller Development Group, who had fought for 30 years for this day. It seems unfair that this could not have been planned better. I raised the matter earlier [in the day].
Now that people are outside, can we take a break to facilitate them and make an exception instead of turning away those who have already been marginalised in society? I appeal to the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the superintendent to bear with us and try to facilitate that.

The Ceann Comhairle told the Dáil that it was “not simply a question of space, [but] a question of personnel to manage the unprecedentedly large crowd”.

“All are welcome. We apologise to those who have been inconvenienced and who find themselves at the front gate. The advice I have at this point is that we do not have sufficient personnel on site to provide the level of management to ensure proper health and safety conditions prevail for everyone.” / YouTube

The Taoiseach pressed on with his speech.

‘Badly organised’

Both Smith and Coppinger have hit out against the government, stating the event was “really badly organised”.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas told that there were 170 people in the public gallery, and as is norm when a lot of visitors are expected, the AV room was used as an overflow room.

“The numbers were in line with that of other occasions such as Budget day and the day in which the Taoiseach is elected,” said the spokesperson.

She said “there was absolutely planning put in place” but more numbers turned up than were expected. “We were at max capacity.”

‘Very disappointed’

Coppinger told today that those from the Travelling community were “very, very disappointed” with what happened.

“Every TD had put down names to be signed in [to Leinster House], but it was clearly oversubscribed,” she said.

People who had hoped to watch the historic event were forced to shelter in the glass reception area at Leinster House and watch the speech on a small television used by staff.

Others went across the road to Buswells Hotel, while others went home, said Coppinger.

“It was bedlam outside. It didn’t feel right,” she said. The AAA-PBP TD questioned why the announcement had to be made in the Dáil in the first place, suggesting that the Mansion House could have been booked to hold the event.

“A larger venue could have been used, so all the people who have fought for the last 30 or 40 years, could attend,” she said.

I think the Minister for Justice should make amends and perhaps organise another day where Travellers are allowed speak about what this means to them.

Coppinger said more preparations need to be made when an event or matter of interest is going to be debated in the Dáil.

“Dáil Eireann is not used to getting such a high volume of people, it’s unusual, but it is becoming more common,” said Coppinger, pointing to the recent medicinal cannabis Bill debate which attracted a lot of people to Leinster House.

Read: ‘A borradh táileasc for the mincéir’: Taoiseach speaks Cant as he recognises Traveller ethnicity>

Read: Pavee Point confident Traveller ethnicity will be recognised in a matter of weeks>

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