When Trinity PhD student Patrick McDonagh, a member of the Travelling community, called this week for the creation of a seat for Travellers in the Seanad, he made an important point.
McDonagh argued that implementing a route to political representation for Travellers would “mark the beginning of what would still be a long journey to giving Travellers a role in the State, in proportion to our place and population within it”.
That McDonagh and fellow activists received an audience in the Seanad represents irrefutable progress – this Editorial Board has often noted that political change is usually effected by forcing politicians to listen up.
But there are myriad obstacles standing in the way of Travellers securing a voice in political forums, and, for third-level institutions, it’s high time we started accepting that education is among them.
The fact that less than one per cent of Travellers are currently in higher education is an indictment of universities.
Trinity has been widely praised for its creation of pathways that make the university more accessible to students from all backgrounds – programmes like the Trinity Feasibility Study have rightly drawn plaudits, while the success of the Trinity Access Programme prompted Oxford University to establish a similar scheme – but there is little acknowledgement of the dearth of Travellers in the College.
College currently offers one scholarship per year to a member of the Travelling community, covering half of the yearly €3,000 fee. But it’s not one you hear much about, and it’s hard to argue that it goes far enough.
This Editorial Board has previously noted that the concept of the degree should not be deified, and it’s true that a university education is not the be all and end all. But in many cases, political representation begins with education. Access to education facilitates access to politics, and by extension to the sites of power from which positive changes can be made.
So, while it’s a great thing to see a Trinity student representing the Travelling community in both spheres, Irish universities and the government must awaken to the fact that they need to do more to become accessible to the Travelling community.
Correction: 21.00, July 14th, 2019
Due to ambiguity in wording, an earlier version of this article inaccurately implied that Patrick McDonagh had not raised education as a topic when speaking to the Seanad. In fact, McDongah did raise the issue of third-level education.