The Quiet Discrimination

After a recent seminar regarding Travellers and the education sector, Martin Healy questions why the minority is continually ignored.[br]DESPITE its prevalent nature in society, people rarely acknowledge the on-going discrimination of Irish Travellers. As crises continue to flare worldwide on issues regarding migrants, little time is given to those residing closer to home.Education, in particular, provides a sizable schism between the ‘mainstream’ and Traveller societies. Only 13% of travellers complete second-level education, compared to 92% in the rest of Irish society. An even more daunting statistic is that less than 1% go on to third-level.Now that we’re past the crippling economic hardship of the late 2000s, surely attention can turn to those in need? There is some movement in this regard, as last December saw the launch of the National Plan for Equity of Access to Higher Education 2015-19. The plan pledges to increase the number of Irish Travellers in higher education from 35 to 80 people. Budget 2017 also saw the roll-out of an €8.5 million plan to support disadvantaged students, with Travellers a part of this.
“Less than 1% of Travellers go on to third-level.”
These increases and benefits will no doubt be great news to the Traveller community, and they were warmly received by Pavee Point. Nevertheless, funding for Traveller education support was decimated by the austerity years. The increases are long overdue, and the funding still has a long way to climb after the torrent of cuts.While austerity saw a slashing of funding for the Traveller community, in the past this wasn’t the case. While the 1980s were a decade of financial strain in Ireland, it still saw the launch of the Visiting Teacher Scheme. This was, and continues to be, a huge benefit to the Traveller community. Traveller children get to receive a proper education, and it doesn’t force them to be “mainstreamed” into traditional school systems.Why did nothing like this appear during the last recession? A 2013 report by Pavee Point found that, since 2008, state funding of Traveller education had fallen 86%. In the same period, government spending dropped 4.3% overall.This again demonstrates the exclusion of the Traveller community. In a time of cutbacks and austerity, the community was absolutely decimated by massive cutbacks. It’s no surprise then that the number of Travellers currently studying in third-level can be measured by the dozen.
“Travellers are not defined as an ethnic minority, which allows the state to dodge accusations of ethnic mistreatment.”
While this is not seen as “direct discrimination”, the government are preferring cuts to one group of people over another based on their background: surely this is the definition of discrimination? Travellers are seen as an easy group to disregard, because there’s no mass protesting -- they are a minority, and often garner very little sympathy from the public-at-large. This treatment avoids capital-D discrimination, but it is essentially the same thing.Travellers are not defined as an ethnic minority, which allows the state to dodge accusations of ethnic mistreatment. This may not last much longer, as calls have been made for Irish Travellers to become a recognised ethnic minority. Two weeks ago, in front of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality, Human Rights and Equality Commissioner Emily Logan declared there is no legal reason that stops the Irish state recognising the ethnicity of Travellers:“The negative impact of non-recognition on the engagement between the Traveller community and the State is unnecessary… the State is bound by the international consensus that self-determination forms the basis of a person identifying as belonging to a particular ethnic or racial group."The European Commission has also spoken on the treatment of Irish Travellers stating that they “appear to face discrimination in Ireland in a number of fields.” While education is one strand of this, the effects of the discrimination are far-reaching. Last year’s Carrickmines tragedy was a harsh reminder of the weak state of facilities for the Traveller community.While education benefits may slowly be extending to Travellers, this could be impacted by other forces. The recent USI student march showed the outrage students have for the idea of paying loans and fees for education in Ireland. If third-level education does indeed become a much more expensive endeavour, where will there be room for Travellers?While more money would be coming from students to be invested in education under this system, it mostly allows the state to drop its own funding of third-level. It is extremely unlikely that Travellers will feel the benefit of any education price hike.A seminar entitled “Participation in Higher Education by Irish Travellers” was recently held in Cork. Figures from the seminar demanded a “ring fencing” for special scholarships for Traveller children and teenagers. Whether it takes recognition of Traveller ethnicity, EU intervention, or a recovering economy – funds are needed for Traveller education.Those within the system rarely reveal their own origins as an Irish Traveller, due to the stigma which comes with it. If this discrimination is to cease, the first thing we need is funding as well as a fairer playing field for those in the Traveller community.