A sea change toward Travellers is needed – Adams
Speaking during the Dáil debate this evening on Sinn Féin PMB on Travellers ethnicity, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD urged the government to “establish a national forum, across the island of Ireland, involving Travellers and the settled community, including representatives of all political parties, of Government, local authorities, health and education sectors and representatives of media organisations to plan a way forward.”
Gerry Adams said:
“In the aftermath of the Carrickmines fire, we should hold a mirror up to ourselves as a people. Could it be that our attitude is in reality that there’s no place in modern Ireland for the Traveller community?
“This is at odds with the generosity and inclusiveness demonstrated by Irish society in the recent marriage equality campaign, or the solidarity with refugees from the Middle East, or the amazing amounts of money raised each year by charities for international relief programmes.
“The widespread expressions of sympathy following the Carrickmines fire has provided some hope that this situation could begin to be turned around.
“However, there is an onus on politicians and government to ensure that something positive, something good comes from this tragedy.”
The Sinn Féin leader said the Traveller community “needs more than mere sympathy and solidarity.”
Teachta Adams said:
“The Traveller child born today will face a life in which he or she will be part of the most socially disadvantaged group in Irish society.
“That child will leave school earlier, have little prospect of work, will suffer ill-health and poverty, and will die younger. He or she will endure substandard living conditions.
“Many will have no access to basic facilities such as sanitation, water and electricity. They will face discrimination in employment and most will never work. Cutbacks in education, health and other services have impacted severely on the Traveller community. The suicide rate is six times that of the settled community.
“At the root of all these problems are the unacceptable levels of prejudice, discrimination, and social exclusion experienced by Travellers at institutional and other levels.”
The Sinn Féin leader said that the government needs to recognise the ethnicity of the Traveller community:
“Such a development would not of itself solve the problems which confront the Traveller community but it would demonstrate leadership on this issue by the Government and set a clear and positive example. But much more needs to be done.”
In concluding, the Sinn Féin leader called for the establishment of a national forum to plan a way forward. He said:
“Two weeks ago, when I put this to the Taoiseach in the Dáil, he rejected it. His view is that the existing structures can meet this need. Patently from the statistics available they cannot. There have been a number of negative phone calls to our party criticising our decision to table this private members business.
“Of course, we could have opted for a safer issue, but what sort of republicans would we be then? We cannot overcome this challenge except by strong and resolute leadership and clear and unequivocal legislation that underpins equality for every citizen.
“Of course, legislation cannot solve this problem alone. It will only be finally resolved when our society embraces the differences among citizens that make up the diversity and uniqueness of our society. That means leaders, including the government, must lead by example.”