Seanad Éireann - Volume 109 - 13 November, 1985
Charter of Travellers' Rights: Motion (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann welcomes the Charter of Travellers' Rights adopted by the National Council for Travelling  People on November 11, 1984 and calls on the Government, to introduce as a matter of urgency, the administrative and legislative reforms demanded by the Charter.
— (Senator B. Ryan.)
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Donnellan) Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Donnellan)
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. Donnellan): When I spoke last Wednesday evening I joined with Senators Ryan and McGuinness in welcoming the charter as a useful yardstick to measure progress towards travellers' full participation in society. I made the point, however, that many of the principles enunciated in the charter have become part of Government policy, particularly the recognition of the distinct identity of travellers and their right to pursue a nomadic lifestyle if they so wish. Important steps have also been taken to ensure that travellers are consulted about policies which affect them and to encourage them to speak out about their situation.
The Department of Health are particularly concerned about the health of travellers. Travellers are entitled to, and do receive, medical services; but evidence suggests that they do not make full use of the preventive health services. It is not so much a question of providing special services for travellers as of positive action to ensure that they receive the services to which everyone is entitled. To this end my Department made funds available to the Eastern Health Board for a mobile clinic, which visits traveller encampments to encourage mothers to attend antenatal examinations in the maternity hospitals and to offer vaccinations and developmental screening of young children.
The clinic is staffed by two public health nurses and public health doctors attend as required. The Clinic began work in July of this year and I am glad to say that already the clinic has proved its worth. In one three day period alone, 164 children were vaccinated.
There is, however, one note of caution which I must sound. There is, unfortunately, an inherent conflict between the traditional travelling way of life and the  attainment of the highest standard of health. Travellers who wish to maintain a nomadic way of life have no option but to live in caravans. The Review Body on Travelling People pointed out in 1983 that even the best appointed caravan is not suitable as permanent accommodation for a large family, particularly in the Irish climate. Even when parked on a site with proper amenities, a caravan has many drawbacks.
The overcrowding, lack of proper sleeping accommodation and poor ventilation associated with a large number of people living permanently in a caravan constituted, in the review body's opinion, a continuing hazard to the health of the occupants. The price of continuing the traditional traveller way of life may be a lower level of health among the families concerned.
Although I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that the principles listed under article 6 of the charter concerning the family are too broad and do not sufficiently take into account the rights of others in the society. Article 6.3, for example, would declare illegal any measures aimed at forcing travellers to move on against their will.
I would suggest that this should be qualified to the extent that traveller families should not be moved unless they are provided with suitable, alternative accommodation. A blanket prohibition on any movement of travellers from any place they choose to park could interfere with the rights of other citizens and be against the best interest of the community.
No discussion of rights, we are told is complete without reference to the accompanying duties. If society is to recognise travellers' rights, travellers will be expected to accept certain duties in return. The duties of citizenship are not always easy, particularly for those who up to now have only acknowledged the discipline of the road. The best way of tackling fear and prejudice against travellers is to show that there is no grounds for such attitudes. Integration, as the review body commented is a two-way process, involving give and take on both sides.
 The charter draws attention to a number of issues where travellers rights may need to be protected by law. In particular there is a need for legislation to outlaw discrimination by private individuals against travellers for no other reason than that they are travellers. Such discrimination takes place in the work place, in public houses, hotels, dance halls, and cinemas. At present travellers have no legal redress against such practices nor have travellers any remedy against public attacks on them as a group or propaganda designed to stir up hatred against them.
My Department and the monitoring committee are concerned about the absence of statutory protection for travellers as a group and have made representations to the Departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs about measures necessary to remedy the situation. Those Departments are involved in examining the implications for Ireland of ratifying the United Nations Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As far as travellers are concerned, what is required is that any anti-discrimination legislation necessary to ratify the above covenants and the Covenant on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination should be broad enough to cover attacks on, or discrimination against, travellers. Senators can be assured that my Department will continue to pursue the interest of travellers in this matter. Senator Ryan, when he was speaking last week, claimed that discrimination against travellers takes place at unemployment exchanges. If discrimination exists against travellers solely on the grounds that they are travellers, then it should be eliminated. This is a matter which the monitoring committee should examine with the assistance of the Department of Social Welfare. I will ensure that it is brought to their attention.
It is time to say a bit more about the monitoring committee, which was established under the aegis of the Minister for Health to review progress towards the implementation of the Government  policy statement on travellers of July 1984. Travellers and persons who speak on their behalf make up the majority on the committee. The committee have just completed their first year's work, a period during which much has happened of benefit to travellers. In education and training, for example, progress has been particularly marked, although much remains to be done. The impetus to increase educational opportunities for travellers children, based on principles such as those listed under article 7 of the charter, has resulted in more pre-schools, better attendance at primary schools and a growth in the number attending secondary schools.
Most encouraging has been the success of the training centres for travellers which now provide 571 places, an increase of 43 per cent on the number provided in 1984. The centres help to compensate young travellers with inadequate primary education and to give them the skills to earn a living and participate fully in society. Senators may have heard about the recent celebration in Galway when over 500 travellers from the training centres throughout the country came together to share their experiences. It was by all accounts a most successful day. Thanks to the monitoring committee, pressure is being maintained on those bodies with responsibility for different aspects of travellers welfare, and the progress made in accommodation, education, training and health is in no small measure due to their persistence. I hope they will continue the good work and be able to report further progress this time next year.
There are many worthwhile aspects of this charter that I have not mentioned, not because I do not consider them important but because they have in general my wholehearted agreement. I am thinking particularly of the articles dealing with economic needs and political rights. I would ask Senators to recognise the many positive developments which have taken place in policies and services for travellers in recent years, without minimising the scale of what remains to be done. I see this charter as both the  indicator of the best thinking about travellers' rights and a signpost for the way forward. I ask Senators to accept the Government's good faith as far as policies and services for travellers are concerned.
Mr. Kiely Mr. Kiely
Mr. Kiely: I would like to say a few words on this motion. We are all concerned with travellers and would like to see them treated equally. Fianna Fáil, in their local government manifesto, are committed to bettering the lives of the travelling people. It is their belief that supervised halting sites should be provided for travelling people with no more than five families per site. These sites should be properly maintained, supervised and financed from central funds. Local authorities will be encouraged to provide special housing and give special attention to the health and educational needs for children. It also calls for a renewed effort to address the problems of the travelling people and the areas in which they have settled. Therefore it must involve local communities as well as central agencies in the solution of what Fianna Fáil see as a national problem.
The settled community activists who wish to solve this problem claim that there is an inadequate standard of health among travellers. This includes food, clothing, accommodation and medical care. These services are not always available to the travelling people. They say their physical, social and environmental conditions are not acceptable. They seem to forget that every person in the State has an equal right and access to all the services made available by the State. Those who wish to solve this problem feel all travellers are left short-changed when it comes to State services.
There are some travellers who say they have never asked for help and that they do not need help. These are middle class travellers some whom are very well off. They have their own way of life. They may deal in scrap, furniture, carpets, fuel and so on. I see these people doing very well in my own area. They provide their own houses from their own resources from dealing profitably in these trades. They also have an itinerant way of life  but that is because it suits their mentality. They are not short of material wealth but because of their way of life they have not had the need to be literate and find it very difficult to locate services when they need them. These include the poor, the sick and the young travellers. That is a barrier that needs to be sorted out.
Every citizen of the State should have access to the services of the State. This weakness applies not only to travellers but also to many of the settled community. Because of red tape, people have difficulty in finding out their rights and then obtaining them. This problem applies to a certain group of travellers. The travelling community get sick, grow old also and are no longer able to care for themselves. It should be taken into account that they are itinerants and ought to be made more conversant with what is available to them then perhaps the settled community who have come across the rules and regulations during their settled existence.
The notion that the fixed community have all the advantages because of their fixed, non-itinerant style of life and that the travelling style of life creates a disadvantage for these people when they need to avail of different services is wrong. There is an ostrich-type approach to this problem because the fixed community is riddled with insecurity, lawlessness, with serious breakdown in mental and physical care, where drug abuse is rampant, where moral principles that used to apply no longer apply and where marital fidelity is not as widespread as it used to be. Those are the kind of conditions we offer as an alternative way of life to the travelling community. Are they the type of conditions we would like to offer to them?
The morals of the travelling community are very high. There are very few pregnancies outside of marriage. There is very little infidelity between husband and wife. I am sure that Senator B. Ryan had no request from the travelling community that a referendum on divorce would be held in the lifetime of this Government.
Mr. Kiely Mr. Kiely
 Mr. Kiely: Limerick County Council are doing what they can for the travelling community. They find it difficult because of objections from farmers and so on. Any reasonable people who find travelling people reasonable will accept them. There is a halting site in Rathkeale where many rich members of the travelling community can afford to build their own houses. There are 60 families housed in the settled community. They were housed at the same time and are acceptable to one another. There are 48 families parked illegally on the roadside. They park on hard shoulders and grass margins and will not be asked to leave unless they cause trouble to neighbours and farmers. If suitable housing is provided they might like to be housed locally. Many travelling families established in the community are acceptable. They do not cause any litter problems in County Limerick. I was told that there are two families living on a main road from Limerick to Killarney, the main road to Kerry near Croagh, who keep the place very tidy, and there are never any litter problems there. They are very much accepted by the local community.
The big problem is that travellers would like to have more halting sites. Land was offered, but because of objections the council had to decline buying it. I would like to mention one man, a former inter-county footballer. I do not know whether Senator Deenihan would know him or not. He is Basil Fitzgibbons of Askeaton, who some years ago offered three sites to the council for tigeens for these travelling people. They built them, despite local objection. Recently they demolished the tigeens and built more permanent housing for those itinerants. We need more people like that man who would accept these people. They are all human beings and that should be the approach. If the settled community could live with them and not have serious objection to them, they would find them acceptable.
State involvement is needed, and needed urgently. I would propose a simple modest programme. Carry out a simple head count county by county all  in one day, categorise the social positions within the travelling community, use existing structures to provide assistance where it is needed, have attached to each local authority extra social workers whose sole duty would be to identify areas of need within the travelling community and provide the assistance available now. I would like to pay tribute to the social workers in Limerick. I do not think there are enough of them. There are only two to cater for the needs of the travellers and I would like to compliment them on the great work they are doing. This is an area where there should be more social workers employed to inform the travelling people of their rights, especially as regards social welfare, education and health. I would say the most important thing would be not to condone any form of anti-social behaviour which comes from travelling communities. However, I think we have more anti-social behaviour from the settled community at present.
Mrs. Robinson Mrs. Robinson
Mrs. Robinson: I, too, welcome this motion and in particular the fact that it gives the Seanad an opportunity to discuss the charter of travellers rights. Indeed, it has already performed an important function in ensuring that a copy of this charter is available to and read by Members of the House, in particular by Members who are taking part in this debate.
I participated in part of the process that led to the adoption of this charter. It was, as is clear from the back of it, adopted by the National Council for Travelling People in November last, on 11 November 1984. Prior to that, in June 1984, I took part in a meeting in Galway which centered on the draft charter as it was at that stage. It was a very useful meeting, a very valuable day long discussion which brought together lawyers and academics as well as members of the National Council, who, of course, included a number of travellers. It was a very healthy discussion. There was some difference of view as to how the rights should be represented in the charter. I would like to take the opportunity to say  that the final version of the charter, as adopted, is a simpler, more direct and a better balanced and reasoned document than was the draft charter. Therefore, it did benefit from a wide discussion process and from a very significant input from travellers through the consultation which occurred and through the National Council for Travelling People.
I am going to come to the charter in such detail as I can in the time available to me. First of all, it might be useful to stand back a bit from this charter and to ask ourselves the question why we need a charter for a section of our population. After all, we have the Constitution of 1937, so why should we need a charter? Before turning to answer that question, when we look at the position of the travellers in our community we are immediately confronted by one of the most telling indictments of our society. We call ourselves a Christian people. We call ourselves a family centred people. We pride ourselves on subscribing to basic values in our society.
We cannot deny now that we do not know about the problem because it has been examined, studies and reported on. The latest full report was the report in February 1983 and there is now a monitoring committee, as the Minister has said. We know in detail the appalling deprivation that is suffered by the travelling people in our community — the most basic deprivation. Hundreds of children have no form of schooling and are growing up illiterate in our society. Mothers have inadequate child care to the point where the mortality rate is much higher than for the settled community, to the point where children suffer far more from early childhood diseases, where the birth weight of children is significantly below the average birth weight for the settled community and so on. The most basic indicators, the most appalling deprivations of access on any sort of terms of equal opportunity, equal access to the basic rights in our society, are denied at the moment to the travelling community.
Anybody who tries to say that this is not the case has not looked at the reports, the official reports which have been  accepted by the Government and which have still not been adequately acted upon, nor have they listened to social workers and those who work in the educational sphere with the travelling community who have documented over and over again the extent of the deprivation. We should be — I do not want to be emotional about this — ashamed of ourselves, because the evidence is there. We know it, but we somehow have a blindness about it. We are not willing to see the necessity for a concerted programme to redress the injustice, the unfairness, the discrimination, the deprivation which has endured through the years of our independence and of our sovereignty as a people. It is about time that we decided to do something about it. For that reason I believe that this charter will be helpful at a number of different levels that I want to come to.
Let me first say that it is a very interesting charter, even from a legal point of view. It is an interesting charter because it serves two purposes. First of all, it reminds us — and we need reminding — that travellers are entitled to be treated as individuals with the same fundamental rights as every other citizen in our society. The children and the adults have the same fundamental rights and are entitled to the same access to the benefits of our society as any other citizens. That is the first point. As I said earlier, it seems strange that we actually have to produce a charter to affirm this because, of course, the Constitution of 1937 affirms it in its language; but we do not affirm it, as I say, in reality.
A second purpose of this chapter is to affirm that travellers are a distinct minority group in the country. They share, in addition to being citizens, a different way of life. They share a common historical background which has been researched in recent years and shows the distinctiveness of this historical background and the culture associated with that background. It has given the travelling people a distinct social and cultural ethos. Therefore, we have a minority which on any normal scale at international level, when talking about  international human rights, would claim the right to respect for that minority as a community and for their way of life, which should not be impeded, obstructed, denied or denigrated either openly or by insinuation. Moreover, it is not just a passive approach. A country should not simply passively tolerate a distinctive minority within it. It is enriched by the fact that there is a minority with a distinctive culture and social ethos. Therefore the response should be one of an affirmative protection for that way of life.
It may be that special measures are necessary — for example, measures of support which would ensure equal access to education, housing, training and health care. I hope that the Minister was not implying that there has to be some radical change before there can be adequate access to these basic rights in our society. It is not that the travelling community have totally to change their whole approach. It is that we as a population have to ensure that we are providing, in a way that is sensitive to the community of the travelling people as a minority deserving our respect, adequate access to the kind of rights we are talking about.
What is the purpose to be served by the charter in so far as it not only sets out the individual rights of the travelling people as citizens of the State but also their rights as a minority, their collective rights of a cultural and social nature? The charter serves a number of purposes. Firstly, it raise consciousness about these rights. It is a new way of looking at the travelling community, a very different from the normal denigrating or ignoring, whether openly or covertly, the position of travellers, who are by no means always called “travellers”. We have a whole Richter scale of terminology in relation to the travelling people, depending on the context and nature of the conversation. It very often happens, if travellers, for example, wish to buy a drink in a public house or use a bus or do any of the normal things we take for granted as a settled community, that they find they are not  even referred to as “travellers” but referred to in a very different way. They are denied basic rights again and again.
It is necessary to change attitudes. One way of changing attitudes is to have this consciousness, a very positive awareness, not just of the individal rights but of the position of a cultural minority in our country. By discussing this charter today I hope we will play our part in raising consciousness of the nature of those rights and what we must do about it.
Secondly, this charter performs an educational function. It is a way of stimulating a better debate abut the broader aspects — educational and health care — in all kinds of different sectors and levels in our society. For example, it would be very valuable if this chapter were discussed in schools. It should be something which is discussed by childern both at national and secondary levels so that they have a greater awareness and appreciate not just the individual rights but also the culture associated with the travelling people. By gaining that understanding and recognising it they learn a tolerance which is the best way of breaking down the blindness and prejudice which is so widely diffused in our society and which children learn from their parents and their community. There is no sense in our denying it or saying that it does not happen.
The charter should be discussed widely in the trade union movement. I am very pleased to see that there is active support for the rights of travellers. It is appreciated that this is a proper area of involvement for the trade union movement and that it will grow and strengthen. The trade union movement has a great contribution to make in this area. It is only through very substantial, collective weight being brought to bear by the settled community through, for example, the trade union movement that we are going to get the necessary change both in attitudes and decisions based on them.
There will have to be very tough decisions made in regard to housing, accommodation generally and other areas. It is important that residents'  associations and tenants' associations discuss this charter and look at the position of travellers from that perspective. It is not the only perspective but one which until now we have very sadly neglected. It will increase the respect and open the eyes of people to what should be the position and the reality which runs contrary to that position.
A third function the charter serves is as a framework for action. Hopefully, it will be used by the travellers themselves to seek recognition of their rights. They will have this as a basis for pursuing those rights, as they are entitled to do as citizens by the normal means open to citizens and as a last resort pursuing them if necessary by legal action where appropriate. The law has served a very limited purpose but it has at least served as a form of shield against the worst oppression, by officialdom very often. There is a more positive dimension to law and hopefully that also can be used.
Finally and most importantly, the charter is also addressed to the Houses of the Oireachtas, to Government and to each local authority as a basis for implementing policy. I will make a number of comments on that as I am running short of time. I would hope that every local authority in the country would debate this charter. I hope that this debate will be reflected on each local authority by putting this charter on the agenda and having a debate on it. That is where the issue needs to be discussed and debated on the ground. If that happens we will have less of the kind of lip service paid and a more genuine approach to recognising the individual and community rights of this minority who are deprived in our society.
I should like to discuss the substance behind this charter. This is a charter of rights, but the rights in question are the basic needs of men, women and children. I urge Senators to accept, since we can only make progress from there, that we deny to a minority within our people equal access and equal treatment in relation to basic health care, educational opportunity, housing and other needs in our society and that this demands redress.
We champion the human rights of  people in other countries, in South Africa and Central America, and that is quite right. We champion the basic needs, the right to life, the right to food and shelter of deprived populations in parts of Africa. We have all of this on our own doorstep. We deny all these rights in some measure or other and in some instances to a quite flagrant degree within our own jurisdiction and it is about time we acted upon it.
I hope the debate on this chapter at national and at local level will ensure that the Government meet the commitments which they have assured us they will be addressing in this regard. The National Council for Travelling People have looked for a statutory body. Is that going to be established and, if so, when? When are we going to see the precise addressing of the particular problems and genuine progress on them? When are we going to get away from politicking? We should not be under any illusion on this. A very bad step was taken by the Dublin County Council, in the name of apparent progress, by going back to the drawingboard. It is very interesting to see who dissented from that vote in Dublin County Council. That reveals a lot of the merits of that measure but it does mean for the travelling families in the greater Dublin area potentially a longer wait for the settled community to face up to their responsibilities.
It is difficult to say anything in the brief time allotted but I welcome the debate. I commend the Senators who tabled it and I hope it will be reflected in other arenas around the country over the next year.
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
Mr. Deenihan: I join other Senators in welcoming the motion. Although considerable progress has been made as regards the housing of itinerants, there is a long way to go with regard to proper health standards for itinerants and proper educational facilities. The Minister referred to the health of travellers. Over the years the travellers have not been looked after sufficiently and in most cases have been neglected. As he and Senator Robinson pointed out, there is a very high  mortality rate among young travellers. Hepatitis, gastroenteritis, pulmonary diseases and kindney problems are very prevalent. Travellers age very quickly and it is rare to see old itinerants along the side of the road. I am glad the recent initiative by the Eastern Health Board in providing a mobile unit has proved to be so successful. The Minister should urge other health boards around the country to set up similar units if possible.
Itinerants also suffer from a lack of education, as has been mentioned here by previous speakers. Only 50 per cent of young travellers attend school regularly. Seemingly there is no apparent push by the Garda to enforce the School Attendance Act and young itinerants are left to wander around the streets without any attention. However, it should not be the responsibility of the Garda to ensure that these young itinerants go to school. The Department of Education should be allowed to appoint school attendance officers in all counties. Very few travellers attend secondary and vocational schools, but this is improving and there have been exceptions. I am glad that the training centres set up specially for itinerants have been so successful. In a sense it is defeating the purpose because it is a form of segregated education. In order to educate itinerants totally and to get them integrated with the community, it is important that they are educated with the community as much as possible. Segregated education only exaggerates the differences between the general population and the travellers. The idea must be to integrate the itinerants as much as possible in our educational system without having to set up any special forms of education for them.
The political involvement of itinerants was also mentioned. Very few itinerants are actually registered to vote. Those who are registered are sometimes exploited by politicians who pay them to vote for them, in some cases by voting illiterately.
Mr. Donnellan Mr. Donnellan
Mr. Donnellan: I hope the Senator is not in that category.
Mr. Deenihan Mr. Deenihan
 Mr. Deenihan: I am not long enough in politics yet to get dirty about it. Considerable progress has been made in the housing of itinerants. In 1960 only 43 families were housed out of 1,198. In 1980 this had increased to 957 out of 2,490 families. This was a substantial increase and no doubt it has increased since. Halting sites in general have also proved very successful. Halting sites provide a necessary transitional period for itinerants to adapt eventually to living in houses. Itinerants who have been taken from the roadside and put directly into houses have not adapted successfully in many cases. It is important to have a transitional period. Itinerants taken from the roadside should undergo some form of domestic education in order to ensure that when they are eventually living in houses they will be able to perform the normal duties. In some cases itinerants find it very hard to adapt to doing the ordinary everyday jobs within a house. It is important that before they are given the key to the house the various domestic duties are pointed out to them and it is made clear to them that they have a responsibility to keep the house tidy. When they get a house it does not mean they have a licence to destroy it, which happens a lot. I do not blame the itinerants. I blame the people who put them into the houses without adequately preparing them.
I agree with Senator Robinsom when she says that itinerants have been treated as second-class citizens and discriminated against for the past 60 years since the foundation of the State. Indeed they have been a much denigrated and maligned group of people and they have been as exploited as the coloured people in America and in other countries. All of us must share the same sense of guilt in this regard. I mentioned to Senator Ryan this evening that we need a race relations Bill here to ensure that all discrimination is ended against minority groupings.
I would like to refer to the United Nations Sub-Committee on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities who stated that the protection  of minorities is the protection of non-dominant groups which, while wishing in general for equality of treatment with the majority, wish for a measure of differential treatment in order to preserve basic characteristics which they possess. This amply applies to the itinerant people. We must allow them to some extent to continue with the customs they have come to live with and accept over the years.
Senator Robinson referred to the ethos of the travelling people. It is important that, as part of the overall culture of our country, this should be preserved. They are a unique group of people and they have unique types of customs which we must not destroy by housing them.
I feel very strongly that the travelling people must realise that they have responsibilities to the settled community. They must behave in a manner which is expected of everybody else and they cannot use the excuse that because they are travellers in some cases they break the law. This must be spelled out to itinerants when they are being housed. In some cases it is neglected. It is not the fault of the travelling people but of the administrators, whether they are in the local authorities or the health boards. We have an obligation to ensure that the travelling people are properly prepared and that they get the same chance as everybody else to become educated enough to form part of the settled community.
I welcome the charter. I sincerely hope — I am sure all the Senators share the same concern — that now at last we are getting somewhere regarding the settlement of itinerants.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I have to say initially that there are the best part of 20,000 travellers living in this country and most of them — whether they are settled or not — have been the victims of the most appalling discrimination and injustice. There are, we are told on the other hand, about 70,000 victims of marital breakdown in Irish society. When we debated the problem of marital breakdown we had an endless queue of speakers from both sides  of the House who felt extremely concerned about this. We got massive media coverage — myself included, which is why I feel free to make this statement. On the other hand we could not find sufficient speakers to fill the entire time of a three-hour debate, with limited contributions from Members, on a simple document which attempts to enunciate for the first time the rights of our travellers. The relative unimportance with which the rights of travellers have been treated by this House in comparison with the issue of marital breakdown underlines the depth of the need for a charter of rights for a minority who, notwithstanding their considerable numbers, are so insignificant in terms of political clout as to be almost dismissed, which is borne out by the fact that we will not even finish the time allowed for our debate.
I quote a statement from The Irish Times, Friday, 21 December 1984, made by a representative of Minceir Misli:
We are Irish people. We share the same history, the same names. We suffer the same as settled people do from the cold, the hunger. We suffer illness and the struggle to make a living. We differ from you only in terms of life style. We are travelling people. We carry no shame for being such. We make no apologies for our birth. But we are treated in a most unjust manner in our own country.
That is a statement by the people we are talking about. I want to say again and again that we are not talking about a problem; we are not talking about a thing that is somehow abstracted into a problem which is going to be eliminated by services of a greater or lesser kind. We are talking about people who see themselves as a community. This charter contains a long list of rights. It contains a list of 12 rights claimed by the travelling community. As Senator Robinson has pointed out, all of those rights should not need to be written down because they should be taken for granted.
In terms of the discussion in this House one would think the only right at issue was the right to accommodation. We  have had from a number of speakers a lot of information about the number of houses which have been built or the number of sites which have been constructed. If we constructed sites and houses for every single member of the travelling community and allowed the legal discriminations that exist against them in other areas — the double standards, the way the forces of the law treat them, the way local residents treat them, the way many politicians treat them, the way many of us in this House would treat them — then the provision of accommodation of itself would be of no great significance or assistance to the travellers. It is a much bigger issue than the provision of sites and houses. I regret very much the emphasis on accommodation. Accommodation is tangible, measurable and, in a manner of speaking, easy to achieve because it is concerned with numbers and buildings. There are many other rights.
Secondly, I would like to mention the use of a large number of quite offensive expressions. I believe in most cases this is done by omission rather than by commission. If we are talking about discrimination against the Jewish community in this country, if we are talking about discrimination against the residents of the Gaeltacht, nobody would presume to get up and give them lectures about rights, responsibilities, duties and the need to do this and that. It appears that unique among minorities the travellers must always be treated to a lecture on their responsibilities whenever anybody dares to talk about their rights. I regret it profoundly. I regret it in particular in a number of the speeches where quite extraordinary language was used about travellers, such as that some of them seem to prefer the side of a ditch and expressions like that. Even if that were true — and I reject it — anybody with a sensitivity to the need to take care of and vindicate the rights of minorities would refrain from using that sort of language.
It is because people will not refrain from using that sort of language, because  the term “itinerant” — which the travelling community do not use to describe themselves — is still used, that we need not just goodwill but specific enforceable rights in all the areas we have talked about. Those areas are the recognition of the minority, the recognition of the right to move and the right to stop, the recognition of the right to accommodation, of the right to have economic needs met, of the right to health, of the right to have their family rights protected, of the right to education, of the right to equality before the law, of the right to have political rights, of the right to have free expression, of the right to privacy and the right to non-discrimination. They are the rights we are talking about, not just houses and sites but a whole range of rights. It is in that context that some of the remarks made here during the debate need to be dealt with effectively.
In particular, Senator Howard — a friend of mine I must say and a man I admire — used extraordinarily colourful language. He said I made a generalised attack on the settled community and on local residents. I have checked the record: I did not do any such thing. I do not know why he thought I said it or whether he expected me to say something and when I did not say it he went ahead and said it anyway. But Senator Howard asserted that in his own urban area they had housed 44 travelling families. The most recent census of travellers in County Clare indicated that only 34 families had been settled in the entire county so, where these 40 families came from, I do not know.
Travellers' rights need to be and must be vindicated, two travellers from Ennis have just spent some days in jail for refusing to pay a fine imposed as a result of a prosecution for illegally parking caravans. One of those travellers is aged 62 years an elderly gentleman who walked to members of this family for meals. The urban council in Ennis proposed to relocate his caravan on a site two miles outside the town — this for a man who had not transport. He refused to move; he was prosecuted for illegal parking and  the expenses incurred by the local authority came to £60. He could not pay it and he ended up in jail until members of the travelling community clubbed together to get the money to get him out. This is a traveller of 62 years of age in jail because he refused to move his caravan to a site two miles outside Ennis. I say that simply to emphasise that even in areas where people perhaps believe a great deal is being done we really are a long way from treating people as equals.
Talking about travelling people reminds me of the white minority in South Africa saying; “Look what we have done for these people. Look at how much more we have done and how much better off are the blacks in South Africa than anywhere else”. Many of our public representatives talk about how much better off the travellers are than they were 10 years ago. They are still almost without rights and almost without any sort of position of equality in our society. It is ironic that people talk a lot about the dirt created by travellers. In The Irish Times of 25 February 1985 it was reported that travellers at Kissogue halting site in west County Dublin began a clean-up of the area on the previous Saturday in the hope that it would discourage members of the settled community from the prolific illegal dumping that is turning their area into a rural slum. Here are travellers cleaning up their own site to try to get the settled community to stop dumping their rubbish there. How many members of the Dublin County Council, T.D.s and Senators from Dublin city and county adverted to that fact, that the travellers are having rubbish dumped on them by members of the settled community?
There is so much that needs to be said. The Minister's speech was full of interesting things though I have to say the fact that, unlike with many other issues, he had no script available to circulate to us and I have to work from notes, perhaps suggests that the issue was not given the priority that many others are given. Normally we are assiduously supplied with Ministerial scripts but there were many good things in what he had to say.
Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare (Mr. Pattison) Séamus Pattison
 Minister of State at the Department of Social Welfare (Mr. Pattison): The Senator can be assured that the script of what I said will be given to him.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: I thank the Minister. It would have been much handier if I had it when he was speaking. There are a number of things that need to be commented on. I am very glad the Minister is working on anti-discrimination legislation but in referring to the monitoring committee, the Minister should be a little bit careful because that committee was in fact set up by the Government and those who are appointed to the monitoring committee were picked by the Government and do not represent anybody except themselves. The National Council for Travelling People did not appoint nominees to the monitoring committee; the Government chose its own representatives and I would just like to draw attention to resolution passed at the Conference of the National Council of Travelling People in Cork last Sunday which called on the Government to enter into immediate negotiations with the national committee of the National Council and for the setting up of an effective body with statutory power to promote the welfare of travellers, to coordinate relevant programmes and to monitor implementation.
That is a dramatic step forward by the National Council and I hope it is one that the Government will respond to, and let not the Minister simply tell me about the Housing Bill, because the Housing Bill empowers the managers to do things and I can quote now some documents about the behaviour of managers which suggest they are not going to do much. The manager in my own County of Cork — I am not talking about the city, I am talking about the county — has spent the last three weeks wringing his hands about the fact that he cannot move travellers on because they are upsetting people.
In the light of the fact that the Minister for Justice is allegedly going to do something about travellers' rights and anti-discrimination. I want to quote from the Limerick Leader of 12 October which  talks about parents setting up a protest against travellers' caravans in their area, including withholding their children from school:
Angry residents halted Limerick Corporation's refuse collection today and warned that this is only the start of a series of public disturbances over itinerants who are parked near St. Brigid's School, Dublin Road . . . gardaí were called in over the weekend to defuse the situation.
Up to 100 men living in the vicinity of Childer's Road marched on the itinerants on Friday night, that was Friday 11 October and told them to move.
The travellers themselves assert that the men were armed with pickaxes, shovels and things like that. A member of the local action committee who organised this march is quoted as saying: “We phoned the gardaí on both occasions to tell them what we were doing.” Nobody from that 100 people has been charged with any offence notwithstanding the intimidating nature of the protect march, and all this in the constituency of the Minister for Justice.
Just to continue on this most recent form of anti-traveller prejudice — at 9.20 a.m. on 14 October about 15 residents marched into the corporation office at Sarsfield House demanding action to move on the travellers. The next paragraph of the report says, and I quote:
They were led by Canon James Sadlier, P.P., Mrs. Anne McCaffrey, treasurer of the parents council, and other committee members.
It appears to me that the Bishop of Limerick would be better off controlling some of his own parish priests than giving lectures to the Minister for Agriculture about the nature of the responsibility of Catholic politicians.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator has two minutes left.
Mr. B. Ryan Mr. B. Ryan
Mr. B. Ryan: The Senator will be finished in two minutes. What appals me  is that we can have that sort of naked, brutal intimidation and use of force against travellers in the constituency of the Minister for Justice and we are still apparently going to have to wait for the Minister for Justice to bring in the necessary legislation to eliminate discrimination and incitement to hatred. We have had it twice: we have had it in Tallaght and in Limerick. When local residents choose to take the law into their own hands the travellers' have no rights. When local residents choose to intimidate the travellers have no rights. When local residents choose to be offensive and threatening and incite to hatred, travellers apparently have no rights. It is because we have had a succession of these manifestations of the fact that travellers have no rights that they are effectively a voiceless, voteless and powerless minority. No solution, no provision of services, no amount of articulation of goodwill, will substitute for what travellers need and demand, which is a charter of rights which enables them to say: “We do not have to do this thing, because we are entitled to be here. We have rights just as you have and we are going to have those rights vindicated, not just through the courts but by those who are obliged to defend the law, that is the Garda Síochána.” This did not happen in Tallaght last year nor in Limerick in October. Hence the need for a charter of rights; hence the need for moving the motion.
Question put and agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Professor Dooge Professor Dooge
Professor Dooge: It is proposed to sit again at 10.30 a.m. tomorrow, and for the benefit of Senators I might indicate that, as is customary on Thursday, we will be discussing reports of joint committees. Tomorrow we will take up the Report of the Joint Committee on EC affairs dealing with forestry and forest-based products and if that is concluded before 4 p.m. we will then take up the report of the same committee on the Multi-Fibre Arrangement.
Seanad Éireann 109 Charter of Travellers' Rights: Motion (Resumed).