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A Very Irish Apartheid
national | rights, freedoms and repression | feature Tuesday March 02, 2004 01:42 by Cathal Mac Oireachtaigh
Travellers and Educational Inequality
It's true to say that a very real and ugly form of social apartheid exists in Irish society while at the same time our Government takes its usual proverbial ostrich approach to the problem. This social apartheid is experienced by the single most discriminated against ethnic minority in Ireland, the Travelling Community.
Inadequate accommodation, poor health status and low educational attainment galvanized by government policy and practice, have in turn exasperated the discrimination and the exclusion of Travellers from mainstream society. Travellers experience prejudice of every shape and form on a daily basis and thus are denied their basic human rights when it comes to utilizing the most basic services in society. The under representation of Travellers in the Irish Education system is one of the most worrying examples of the inequality and discrimination that over the last fifty odd years have been stitched deep into the fabric of modern Irish society.More on Education Cutbacks
Newswire references to Traveller issues
While the number of students from working class (or in more politically correct terms `lower socio-economic') backgrounds participating in 3rd level has increased in the past few years, access to 3rd level still remains the preserve of a predominantly middle class populace. The chances of a Traveller ever setting foot in one of UCDs hallowed lecture halls are slim if not nonexistent and in fact the number of travelers that have attended 3rd level can be counted on one hand. This disturbing reality is nonetheless somewhat expected considering the fact that only 14% of Travellers even make it into Second level. Those who do make it, rarely complete the leaving Cert. More startling again a significant number of Traveller children fail to attend primary level school. With these harsh realities in mind it no surprise that 80% of adult Travellers are illiterate.
People are often quick to assume (usually based on nothing but in built prejudices) that the nomadic lifestyle at the heart of Travelling culture is what gives rise to such disadvantage.
This shallow point of view blatantly fails to recognize the array of complex factors involved and ultimately perpetuates the widespread opinion that Travellers are sole contributors to their own demise. This opinion couldn't be further from the truth. Our very own Dr.Kathleen Lynch, of UCD's Equality Studies Centre, outlines very clearly in her book Equality in Education, the constraints facing those from disadvantaged backgrounds. In summary Dr Lynch identifies the barriers to education as economic, institutional, and cultural. It is the combination of these factors that make access and participation of Travellers in education unfeasible.
Economically, Travellers lack the financial security needed to support long-term participation in education. Even if they did have the `few bob', it is highly unlikely that the institutional barriers could then be over come. In effect second and third level institutions are ill equipped to facilitate this ethnic minority. The need for remedial resources and inter-cultural teacher training are just two of many institutional factors that hinder Travellers educational chances. Third level access schemes, while welcomed and appreciated, need more resources and innovation in order to deal with Traveller needs when it comes to accessing third level. In its own right Traveller culture is somewhat at odds with mainstream education but the problem actually lies in the inability of the education system to fully embrace all forms of cultural diversity. Essentially, Irish society is increasingly intent on controlling diversity as illustrated by the exclusion of our own indigenous ethnic minority and by our xenophobic attitudes to immigrants.
It seems that there is little room for the plights of minority groups in the economic driven 21st century Ireland we now live in. Realistically, most minority groups such as Travellers, face little chance of experiencing true equality in a heedless society that puts economics before equality. However, a resistance movement has been gathering steam. The movement for Travellers civil rights has gained much strength and confidence over the past decade with organisations such as the Irish Traveller Movement (ITM) actively campaigning with the view that education is a vital catalyst in their struggle.
Ridiculous suggestions about the privatization of our education system alongside the danger of Universities espousing the doctrines of `international competition', will undoubtedly further marginalise those who already suffer exclusion. Viewing education in purely economic terms and the promotion of a conveyor belt education system means that the necessary social programmes needed to combat educational disadvantage take second place on the list of priorities. If diversity is a vital component of a healthy, vibrant and socially conscious nation, then the exclusion of any one group from Irish society is a shame we must collectively share.
Travellers are an indigenous ethnic minority who, historical sources confirm, have been part of Irish society for centuries. Travellers ethnicity stems from their long shared history, cultural values, language, customs and traditions make them a self-defined group, and one which is recognisable and distinct. Their culture and way of life, of which nomadism is an important factor, distinguishes them from the sedentary (settled) population.
There are an estimated 25,000 Travellers in Ireland, making up more than 4,485 Traveller families. This constitutes approximately 0.5% of the total national population. It is estimated that an additional 15,000 Irish Travellers live in Britain, with a further 10,000 Travellers of Irish descent living in the United States of America.
Travellers, as individuals and as a group, experience a high level of prejudice and exclusion in Irish society. Many have to endure living in intolerable conditions, with approximately one third having to live without access to the basic facilities of sanitation, water and electricity. This leads to ongoing health problems among the Traveller community. A report of the Health Research Board (1987) revealed that Traveller men live, on average, 10 years less than settled men, while Traveller women live on average 12 years less than their settled peers. Discrimination and its effects are a daily feature of Travellers lives.
Check out the following links for some more information on Travellers:.
Irish Traveller Movement
A history of Travellers fighting back for themselves.
The Life of Breda, an interview with a traveller woman.
How the new Public Order Act is to be used against travellers
Pavee Point: a traveller community initiative