Saturday 16 December 2017

Traveller training centre closed due to feuds

John Walshe

FEUDING between Traveller families has led to the closure of one training centre, and to increased security measures in a number of others.

A new report contains interviews with staff in the Mullingar centre, which was forced to close in 2008.

It was one of 33 centres catering for 1,000 Travellers aged 18 and over -- but a former worker described two years of stress before the closure.

The worker said: "There was a lot of violence, and threats of violence and phone calls to say, 'we're coming down to petrol bomb now'."

At one stage, the building had to be evacuated and gardai arrived to warn the people in the centre they were going to be petrol bombed.

"We'd a phone call to say they were gathering weapons and they're on their way down ... you didn't know if this was true or not but you couldn't take the risk, so you'd have to close."

Employers said they had fears that Traveller employees would bring conflicts between families into the workplace.

One person who worked in the training centre said: "We had lads coming in balaclavas with hatchets and hammers saying, 'if you employ this person, your centre will be destroyed'."

He said also Travellers went to various local employers and warned they would not have a shop the next day if 'Job Bloggs' was still working there.

The report, prepared by Dr Niamh Hourigan from UCC and Maria Campbell from St Angela's College, Sligo, reveals that only 102 Travellers completed the Leaving Certificate out of a total Traveller population of 22,369 two years ago.

Prejudice and cultural difference are blocking Travellers from getting a better education, it concludes. Only half of Traveller teenagers stay until the Junior Cert, and a tiny fraction stay to complete the Leaving Cert.

The majority completely disappear from the school system by Leaving Cert level.

The report reveals that even those who make educational progress hide their Traveller identity because of fear of prejudice from 'settled' students.

The majority of Travellers interviewed by the academics described the mainstream school system as the place where they first became aware of the stigma associated with being a member of the travelling community.

The report entitled 'Traveller Education and Adults: Crisis, Challenge and Change (TEACH)', says the provision of dedicated adult education 'spaces' for travellers within the VEC system will be a necessity for many years to come.

These 'spaces' are essential to support travellers who have experienced prejudice. They would replace the 33 Traveller Training Centres which an Bord Snip Nua recommended be phased out.

The centres cater for just over 1,000 travellers aged 18 at a cost of €25m at present.

Irish Independent

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