Sunday 22 September 2019

'Travelling community should have own senator'

Oireachtas group proposed to work at ending 'tensions'

Leinster House
Leinster House
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Travellers should be entitled to elect a representative to the Seanad, the Ceann Comhairle has said.

Three months on from the racism row that engulfed the presidential election, Seán Ó Fearghaíl wants the Oireachtas to actively work at ending the "tensions" between Travellers and the settled community.

He intends to propose the establishment of a special committee of TDs and senators in January that will be charged with assessing how society can better serve Travellers in terms of housing, education and health.

One suggestion is they would have a seat in the Seanad, although it's not clear how the candidate would be selected.

Currently, the Seanad is made up of nominees from different sectors including business, agriculture and education, as well as 11 nominees from the Taoiseach.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl told the Irish Independent his plan is based on his own dealings with Travellers rather than a reaction to Peter Casey's performance in the presidential election.

Mr Casey finished second to Michael D Higgins with 342,000 votes after saying Travellers should not be recognised as an ethnic minority because they are "basically people camping in someone else's land".

The Ceann Comhairle had "no comment" to make about Mr Casey, but said: "I'm well aware that there is tension out there in society. I see it. But the tension comes from a lack of understanding and a lack of mutual respect."

He is working with Independent senator Colette Kelleher and Labour TD Jan O'Sullivan to bring a detailed proposal to all the political parties for a working group.

"I've had a guilty conscience about this for some time. I've worked with Travellers in my constituency. I'm conscious that during the summer just gone that the Traveller community has been particularly adversely affected by the housing problems. I see more Travellers living on the roadside than ever before," Mr Ó Fearghaíl said.

He added: "It's a disgrace that the life expectancy of a Traveller is so much lower than the life expectancy of a settled person. It's a disgrace that 80pc of Travellers are registered as unemployed.

"We need to look at inter-community relations and how we can build understanding and respect between the settled and Traveller communities. That understanding and respect is a two-way street."

Irish Independent

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