Independent Senator Eileen Flynn on Thursday became become the first member of the Traveller community to address Dáil Eireann.
Ms Flynn was given a round of applause by TDs present after speaking to the chamber about a recent Oireachtas committee, which she chaired, on issues facing the Traveller Community.
Her husband Liam and daughter Billie were present in the Dáil’s visitor’s gallery to hear her speak.
In her opening remarks, Ms Flynn said one of the ushers in Leinster House had said to her ‘Eileen remember, you’re not in there for nothing, you’re in there because you deserve to be in there’.
“I thought it was an absolutely lovely comment for me, for when I came in,” she said.
Ms Flynn said the State could not continue to deny opportunities to the Traveller community, which had been done “for generations”.
“Now it is time for us all to move forward together,” she said. “We have to let bygones be bygones and we need to move forward together.”
Ms Flynn pointed out that the Oireachtas committee’s report on issues facing the Traveller community had set out 84 recommendations, the vast majority of which were “not new” but just “haven’t been implemented”.
She said a national Traveller accommodation authority was required and that “time and time again we see local authorities underspend their allocation of funding for the Travelling community”.
“Between 2008 and 2019 local authorities left more than €72 million in funding underspent, yet the needs of Traveller accommodation are as serious as ever,” she said.
Ms Flynn also said there needed to be a standalone national Traveller mental health strategy and a steering group to ensure its implementation, which would work with stakeholders and Travellers.
“We [TRAVELLERS]are and we do play an equal part of Irish society. We have a parliament now for 100 years and now it has a member of the Traveller community,” she added.
“We are moving towards a better Ireland for everybody but it needs to be a more inclusive Ireland. The money is there. It is about implementing it and changing people’s lives.”
“I could be wrong, I’d say you would go far to find Travellers employed in any Government department,” he said.
The Dublin South-West TD said South Dublin County Council had employed members of the Traveller community to carry out masonry work in Seán Keating Garden in Rathfarnam and there was “no reason why every chief executive of every local authority in this country cannot do it”.
Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl said there had “certainly” been members of the Traveller community working in Leinster House, but “sadly not enough”.
“You [DEPUTY LAHART]make a very valid point and it is something I will personally take up with the Public Appointments Service,” he said.
“We might encourage deputies and senators to look to the Traveller community when they are employing staff themselves and the political parties.”
Minister of State Malcolm Noonan said it was critical that the findings of the report were addressed at a “whole-of-government level and right across the Houses of the Oireachtas” and that the State worked with all partner agencies and the Traveller and Roma communities.
“We see persistent discrimination, including at political level when there is intervention in housing allocations,” he said.
“We see Traveller families, particularly young Travellers, hiding themselves from view rather than celebrating their heritage and culture.”