New Bill would make learning Traveller history obligatory

The Bill is still under debate in the Oireachtas, however, if passed, it would amend the Education Act 1998 to include the compulsory teaching of Traveller culture and history.

The Oireachtas is currently debating a piece of legislation which aims to make the study of Traveller history and culture an ‘obligatory’ part of the primary and secondary curriculum.

The Bill, introduced by Senator Collette Kelleher would amend the Education Act 1998 to include the compulsory teaching of Traveller culture and history.

Senator Kelleher has had an important role in the development of the Bill. The Senator explained that the purpose of this bill is to contribute to a more inclusive school environment for Irish Travellers, whom the Senator says are “50 times more likely to leave school before completing the Leaving Certificate” than the general population. “This situation needs to change,” she declared.

Kelleher believes the Bill would “recognise and validate” the distinct culture of the Traveller community, as well as combat feelings of “exclusion”, which in turn would increase levels of educational attainment in the Traveller community.

Kelleher also maintains the implementation of the provisions of the bill would allow pupils and teachers to become more educated on Traveller culture and history, and this may help to counter the “discriminatory attitudes” towards Travellers.

The Bill was initiated in July 2018 and passed by the Seanad on the 16th of October 2019. Despite the passing of the Bill, concern over the wording has been expressed. Seanad debates on the 16th of October saw Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh outline how although he is “supportive of the overall principle underlying the Bill”' he believes the draft could “potentially be problematic if passed”.

Due to this concern, a number of amendments regarding the wording of the Bill were proposed. This included diluting the proposed provision of teaching Traveller history and culture as part of the syllabus to the arguably lesser obligation “to promote” it.

Senator Kelleher expressed her dismay at this amendment, stating that she believes this obligation could be satisfied with “even the most minimal activity on the part of each individual school”, however she feels this Bill has opened a basis for “further conversation”, and she called for the Minister to prioritise the Bill going to the Dáil.

The minister closed the matter by outlining his intention to “prioritise the Bill progressing to the Dáil”, and ended the Seanad sessions by commenting that “history will truly be made when there is somebody from the Traveller community standing where I am today.”