If the tragic fire that happened in Carrickmines and its aftermath had occurred in another country, we would have been horrified. Ten people were killed, including five children who were all under 10 years old. While there was great support and sympathy from Irish people, there was not the same sense of outrage and horror that we would express if it had occurred somewhere else. Yes, there is anti-social behaviour by a small minority in the Traveller community, but there is major anti-social behaviour by many people in the settled community.
It was the death of Jonathan Corrie that brought the issue of housing and homelessness onto the Dáil agenda in a stark way. It is alarming and disturbing that it took another terrible tragedy at Carrickmines, for the Lynch, Gilbert and Connors families and for the wider Traveller community, to bring about a debate on Traveller issues in the Dáil. The point I made is that the Government have become complacent particularly with regard to Travellers. And successive governments and Irish society have ignored the glaring inequalities that persist. What was common at the briefing I attended the other day from the Travellers’ rights activists was the total alienation they feel when they enter Leinster House. Leinster House does not respect their culture, history or ethnicity.
The statistics are staggering and clearly show the inequalities experienced by members of the Traveller community in terms of life expectancy, illnesses, rates of suicide and infant mortality. Huge inequalities in education, in that regard, I ask Traveller parents to be more proactive and supportive of their children continuing in school beyond leaving certificate into third level education. In the secondary school where I taught, too often I saw very bright Traveller girls leaving school at the end of first.
Most people I know are against racism and discrimination. We have a strong voice with regard to human rights and Ireland is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We believe we have a social conscience, but too often that stops when it comes to Travellers. The academic research on Travellers over recent decades supports the case for recognition of their ethnicity, which is supported by the majority of Travellers. Accepting their ethnicity is simply respecting difference and diversity.