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BEST PRACTICE IN

PARTICIPATION: Would we elect a Traveller as Taoiseach? Allen Meagher reports

The influence of Barack Obama is everywhere and a national Traveller-only forum believes that one day a Traveller might become Taoiseach. The forum is called Minceir Whiden, a Cant word meaning Travellers Talking, and membership is heading towards a thousand. They could be right. At least, you have to believe so if change is to happen. “In a few years down the line, we would love to see a Minceir Whiden representative in the Seanad. We could then follow in America’s footsteps, in electing Mr Obama, and reach a position in Irish society where a Traveller is elected as Taoiseach,” said Mags Casey, project co-ordinator of Tipperary Travellers CDP. “Promoting and creating a political platform for our community is one of our long-term aims. It will take a lot of hard work and it means we need support not only from our community but from the settled community,” she added. NEARLY CHOKED Ireland has twice elected female Presidents, a nigh-impossibility in the early years of the State when women, while having the vote, often voted as they were instructed to by the man of the house. But change begins by believing it is possible. I remember a female work colleague, during my time as a volunteer in the civil service in The Gambia; she nearly choked when I suggested her country could

one day elect a female President. Eight years after that discussion, a woman was elected President in the nearby West African state of Liberia. My former work colleague admitted to me (on a subsequent visit) that it was a possibility one day in her country too. So too with the notion of a Traveller becoming Taoiseach. Talking about it gives life to the idea and Travellers are talking like never before. Over 750 people have joined the Travellersonly forum where members talk openly about the issues they face, covering everything from family feuds to youngsters text-dating. This level of participation is remarkable and a credit to the many Traveller groups – including around a dozen CDPs – that have laid the groundwork over the years to encourage Travellers to get more organised. HISTORIC DAY The forum has been in the making quietly for four years now, but on November 27th, 2008, Minceir Whiden was officially launched at a public ceremony in the Mansion House, Dublin. The Minceir Whiden Council presented themselves at the official launch and outlined the forum’s aims. They also underlined the historic importance of the launch: “This is where the first Dáil took place,” Martin Collins reminded those attending. “As is well documented by human rights bodies, Travellers continue to be one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in Irish society.”

Traveller peace pin A design for a Traveller Peace Pin was launched as part of Traveller Focus Week in December. Winnie Keenan of Pavee Point Mediation Service believes her idea that people should wear a Traveller Peace Pin will encourage an end to conflict within Traveller communities. The idea was turned into a design by artist Eamon Coleman and – as funds are raised – the pin will go into production. have you really an anti-poverty/anti-exclusion focus?

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That marginalisation is manifested in the rejection – by Travellers – of their own ethnicity, in low educational attainment, high unemployment rates, poor living conditions and so on. ASSERTIVE AND STRONG “We will be strong and assertive but dignified and disciplined in demanding the rights and respect the Traveller community are entitled to,” added Martin. Minceir Whiden brings together Traveller activists from all over Ireland, many of whom have been involved in the struggle for many years, and their experience is balanced by the raw idealism of young Travellers who have joined up. “Minceir Whiden will reap positive benefits not only for Travellers but for society in general. It will lead us forward as a community challenging our oppression as one,” said forum member, Rosemarie Maughan, from Mayo. Having launched the national forum, Minceir Whiden is now working to win recognition from the State, national NGOs and domestic and international bodies supportive of Travellers and Human rights. To become a member, or for more information, contact Minceir Whiden, c/o John Paul Collins, c/o Apartment 1, The Mews, 20a Herbert Lane, Dublin 2. T: 086739-1988. E: minceirwidden@o2.ie (the spelling is wrong, but the email address is correct).

Winnie believes that by wearing the pin, people will stir debate about the problems within Traveller communities. “Many Travellers want to see an end to violence and for people to find better ways of dealing with conflict and sorting out problems,” she said. For more information or for an order form, please contact: The Mediation Service, Pavee Point Travellers’ Centre, 46 North Great Charles Street, Dublin 1. T: 01-8780255. E: caroline.keane@pavee.ie or winnie.keenan@pavee.ie

Profile for CHANGING IRELAND

CHANGING IRELAND ISSUE 28  

Hot in Issue 28: The Participation Issue - Over 750 join new Travellers’ forum/ Obama - he’s one of us!/ Primary health care in Donegal/ Min...

CHANGING IRELAND ISSUE 28  

Hot in Issue 28: The Participation Issue - Over 750 join new Travellers’ forum/ Obama - he’s one of us!/ Primary health care in Donegal/ Min...