24. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the steps she will take to highlight Traveller culture in a positive and meaningful way in view of the fact that Travellers are a distinct ethnic minority; and if she will make a statement on the matter. (Question 10100/18 asked on 28 Feb 2018)

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: On March 1 last year there was an historic, if belated, acknowledgement of Traveller ethnicity and culture. Beyond the symbolic importance of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity and culture, what practical steps and policies is the Minister with responsibility in the area of culture going to take to practically celebrate, acknowledge and promote Traveller culture as a crucial part of Ireland’s historic identity and culture?

Deputy Josepha Madigan: As I advised the House in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 267 of 6 December 2017, my Department’s commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion is reflected in its policies and operations and in those of the bodies under its aegis.

One of the stated aims of Culture 2025, which is my Department’s national cultural policy document, is to create opportunities for increased citizen participation, especially for those currently excluded or at risk of exclusion, with a key value being the right of everyone to participate in the cultural life of the nation. This right runs throughout people’s lives, irrespective of where they come from, where they live, their religious beliefs or their economic or social backgrounds. In line with these policy objectives, my Department’s Creative Ireland programme continues to promote the Traveller mentoring programme and in 2017, through Cork City Council, funded the renovation of the Traveller culture exhibition at Cork Public Museum in 2017, with the refurbishment designed by visual artist and Traveller, Leanne McDonagh.

In 2017 the Irish Film Board and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, BAI, provided €625,000 in funding for Carmel Winters’ film, “Float Like a Butterfly”, which is due for release this year and is set among the Traveller community. The Arts Council supports the Traveller community under the arts participation and the artist in the community schemes. Managed by Create on the Arts Council’s behalf, these schemes encourage artists to work in a culturally diverse context including among the Traveller community. The work of artists from the Traveller community has also been recognised this year with the election to Aosdána of playwright Rosaleen McDonagh and the awarding of the Arts Council’s next generation bursary award for 2017 to visual artist Leanne McDonagh.

The cultural institutions are also active in this space. In 2017 the Chester Beatty Library partnered with the National Concert Hall as part of Dublin City Council’s Dublin Culture Connects programme under which the poet Stephen James Smith is working with the Traveller women’s group at Labre Park in Ballyfermot to look at shared stories. The National Museum is planning a major exhibition with the Traveller community to be hosted in the Museum of Country Life from June 2018. The exhibition will focus on the traditions, customs and history of the Traveller community over the years.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

My Department is also represented on the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy Steering Group, which monitors the implementation and progress of the recently published the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021. I look forward to working with my Department and those bodies under its aegis in developing these important initiatives.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: All of those things are welcome and at some levels, we are moving forward. I also note that 15 March, the national Traveller day of culture will see an important event on Traveller history and ethnicity at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. These are all positive things but actual participation in culture starts with the basics where, quite frankly, we are not moving forward. While these are not directly within the Minister’s remit, she should consider them as part of the project of making the formal acknowledgement of Traveller ethnicity a reality. Accommodation is one of the most basic elements of Traveller culture but Travellers in this country are 11 times more likely to be homeless. Against the background of disastrous homelessness generally, Travellers are disproportionately hit. Indeed, politicians, including the Minister in the past, have played fast and loose on the issue of Traveller accommodation but we need to move forward on that. In the area of education, we need to reinstate the visiting teacher for Travellers and to provide extra resource teachers in schools for Travellers. We must also include Traveller history and culture in the school curricula.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Regarding my own Department, page 6 of the Culture 2025 document specifically mentions that all people, no matter where they come from, should be included in our culture plans. Culture also has an important role to play in promoting tolerance, inclusivity and social cohesion in our increasingly diverse society. It should be accessible to everyone, irrespective of origin, place of residence, religious beliefs or economic or social background.

I was here in the Dáil when the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, made a statement in recognition of Traveller ethnicity on March 1 last year. The then Taoiseach also visited my constituency and met the Southside Travellers Action Group, who were absolutely delighted that their ethnicity would be formally recognised. Deputy Kenny said that Travellers told him that it took 30 years for a government to listen to them across the table. He went on to say:

The representatives spoke passionately about how this strong message from the State would be a very important symbolic and positive step in acknowledging the uniqueness of Traveller identity. They felt it would resonate strongly among the community and help counter the stigma and shame felt by many, particularly young people, and increase feelings of respect, self-esteem and inclusion.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I acknowledge the historical importance, albeit belated, of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity last year but now we need to move to practical policies and actions. My point is that we have a long way to go. The situation for Travellers in this country is truly shocking. They are seven times more likely to commit suicide and one in 11 young Traveller men die by suicide. Traveller men live 15 years less and Traveller women live 11 years less than their settled counterparts. Infant mortality is four times higher and as I said already, Travellers are 11 times more likely to be homeless. We need to address these issues in the areas of health and accommodation. I would like to see movement on these issues and practical timelines put in place. There is no budget and no timeline for the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy; therefore, it is aspirational rather than a practical policy.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: The Deputy makes valid points about members of the Traveller community. They have difficulties, perhaps more than other groups, in dealing with many of the issues that confront them. The Government must do all it can to assist them in reaching their goals in life. I have attended many good events in my constituency aimed at dealing with this issue.

From a broader perspective, the National Museum of Ireland exhibition will be hosted in the Museum of Country Life from June. The idea of the Traveller journey exhibition which will run until May 2019 was originally proposed to members of the western regional Traveller health network who developed the concept at a social inclusion event co-hosted by the museum, Mayo County Council and the Mayo Traveller Support Group in October 2015. A budget of €100,000 is being allocated for the exhibition.

On other aspects of the work of my Department, the director of the National Library of Ireland will be attending a national Traveller ethnicity event this week, unless it is postponed. It might have been postponed already. It was due to take place tomorrow. The director will speak on another occasion about genealogy and other source material the National Library of Ireland has available for the study of Traveller family histories.