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Just 9% of Travellers sit the Leaving: 'These education findings are frightening and a poor reflection on society'

We need to be more ambitious and innovative in tackling Traveller inequality, writes Martin Collins.

Martin Collins

THIS WEEK’S ESRI report “A Social Portrait of Travellers” is a stark reminder of the inequality and exclusion that Travellers experience in Irish society.

The report both confirms and gives legitimacy to what Traveller organisations have been saying for years. Travellers continue to face discrimination, exclusion and poor outcomes from service provision in education, work, housing and health.

Education is vital

The report gives particular focus to education and this is seen as crucial to addressing poverty, unemployment and living circumstances. I would even suggest that equal outcomes for Travellers in education are crucial in addressing inequality and exclusion of Travellers generally.

Some of the education findings are frightening and are a poor reflection on our society. For example, Travellers are over 50 times more likely to leave school without the Leaving Certificate in comparison to the non-Traveller population.

86% of the settled population complete formal education, this is compared with only 9% of Travellers. The research tells us that Travellers have benefited less from improvements in education since the 1960s.

Education is a social determinant of quality of life

It is recognised by the World Health Organisation that education is a social determinant of good health, well-being, status and overall quality of life. Therefore it is very disconcerting that we have seen huge and disproportionate cuts to Traveller education and Traveller supports generally.

For example, in 2011 Traveller specific education supports were cut by 86.6%. We still don’t have a Traveller Education Strategy or an education implementation plan. It is also the case that:

  • The Further Education and Training Strategy has no Traveller specific targets or actions.
  • The National Skills Strategy has no Traveller specific targets or actions.
  • The Action Plan for Education contains only one Traveller specific action (that’s third level).

Lack of funding

The only strategy which has sought to target Travellers is the National Strategy for Equity of Access at third level which we welcome, and which Pavee Point was actively involved in. Unfortunately, Pavee Point has had to close our education programme due to lack of funding.

This programme was funded for the last four years by a charity. This programme was instrumental in engaging Travellers with the formal education system.

What we need to see is funding for Traveller education reinstated and ringfenced. We need the reconvening or establishment of a National Education Advisory Committee. We need to have a very clear Traveller education strategy with very specific targets, timescales and budgets.

This needs to cover primary, secondary and third level education. It is really important that the evidence in this report informs policy and policy implementation and should feed into the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy and other policy making arenas, if it is to create positive outcomes for Travellers.

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We need specific targeted measures for Travellers

The report acknowledges the need for specific targeted measures for Travellers which is to be welcomed. And this echoes a recent assessment of Ireland by the European
Commission that says:

“A mainstreamed approach is sufficient when outcomes are identical for all components of the target group. When evidence shows a clear gap between the situation of Roma and Travellers versus the rest of society (ie regarding their health and housing) policies should be adjusted and specific measures should also be developed.”

We are all challenged by the ongoing inequalities faced by Travellers in Irish society and we need to be more ambitious and innovative in our approaches to this task. It is vitally important that we adopt a constructive partnership approach between Traveller organisations and the State in this process.

Martin Collins has been a Traveller activist for over 30 years and is a founding member of Pavee Point Travellers Centre, of which he is now Co-Director. 

Watch: Labour minister’s blistering criticism of attitudes towards Travellers>

Column: Denying Traveller ethnicity makes Ireland a rogue state>

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About the author:

Martin Collins

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