22 September 1998
Building a partnership with the travelling community
Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams MP today addressed the AGM of the Belfast Travellers' Education and Development Group. The Sinn Fein leader called for ``a significant increase in resources for the Travelling Community, particularly in the area of education and job training.''
Mr. Adams said:
``The Good Friday Agreement sets out clear commitments to respect the civil rights and religious liberties of every citizen. This includes the `right to freely choose one's place of residence' and the `right to equal opportnity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed, disability, gender or ethnicity.
``It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the implementation of the Agreement and any new legislation which emerges from it reflects these fundamental principles in relation to the travelling community.''
Full text of Mr. Adams remarks
Sinn Fein is working for an inclusive society in which every citizen and every ethnic community will find room to co-exist in a tolerant and pluralist society.
The travelling community has been the victim of enormous injustice, prejudice and discrimination.
Travellers have a right to their cultural diversity and way of life.
This must mean the provision of an education system which meets the needs of the travelling community. The educational deficit is a major obstacle to the effective representation of the travelling community, and to fulfilling the individual and community potential of travellers.
The Springvale centre, in which this AGM is taking place, is one example of a successful innovative approach which has provided much needed training, apprenticeships and education for thousands of young people. Courses have been tailored to suit the needs and interests and standards of the young people entering its doors.
There is an urgent need to determine why many of the existing training courses have failed to attract travellers and why many of those who have participated did not finish their courses. Research is urgently needed so that education and training can be designed to meet the needs of travellers.
Several weeks ago President Clinton and two young people from west Belfast turned the first sods on the new Springvale campus. We need to discuss with the University, and with the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education, what role they can play in opening the door of third level education to travellers ?
Five months ago the two governments and a range of political parties signed up to the Good Friday Agreement.
The Agreement establishes a new Human Rights Commission, an Equality Commission, will see the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights, and will place on public bodies a statutory obligation to promote equality of opportunity in the carrying through of their responsibilities.
The Agreemetn also sets out clear commitments to respect the civil rights and religious liberties of every citizen. This includes the `right to freely choose one's place on residence' and the `right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity, regardless of class, creed disability, gender or ethnicity'.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the implementation of the Agreement and any new legislation which emerges from it reflects these fundamental principles in relation to the travelling community.
In recent months I have argued strongly for a Children's department among the new departments to be established, and that all legislation should be `child proofed' to ensure protection for children against exploitation and abuse. This principle should equally apply to travellers and all legislation and new policy decisions should be subject to being `traveller proofed'. This and the determined implementation of the new institutions and laws is essential if the prejudice and discrimination within the system is to be effectively challenged.
The greater west Belfast area probably has the largest number of travellers sites of any other constituency in the north. Many travellers have lived here for years. Despite this the relationship between the settled community and travellers has frequently been strained.
There is a responsibility on all of us in political parties, in residents and community groups, and particularly in the burgeoning partnership boards to ensure an inclusive approach towards travellers and traveller support groups. The Féile and Phobail has been particularly pro-active in this respect. But more needs to be done.
``There is an enormous amount of work to be done if the quality of life of travellers is to be transformed for the better. The new opportunities presented by the Good Friday Agreement have to be grasped and exploited to their full potential. Sinn Fein and the west Belfast community will play our full role in constructively tackling these many problems. I look forward to a partnership with the travelling community as we each strive to bring about the fundamental changes which are the right of every citizen.
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