Travellers move to make a stand in local elections
2019-03-01 00:00:0 -

Ahead of the local and European elections in May, several members of the Traveller community across Ireland met in Athlone to strategise on how to use their vote to change their circumstances.


The plan, aimed at mobilising Travellers to stand for election as well as to come out en masse to vote in the upcoming local elections, could see three Traveller candidates — Martin Ward in Tuam, Julia O’Reilly in Longford and Catherine Coffey O’Brien in Cork — elected to their respective local authority councils.


In a statement, Mincéirs Whiden — Cant for ‘Travellers Talking’, and organisers of Ireland’s Traveller-only national forum — said the 60 Travellers attending would “mobilise the Traveller Vote, to inspire members of our community to become more politically active, to encourage Travellers to join political parties and run as election candidates.”


“It’s time for real change in Ireland. The Traveller community has been neglected and discriminated against for too long,” said Hughie Friel, spokesperson for Mincéirs Whiden. “Ireland has changed a huge amount in the last few years, and yet attitudes towards our community haven’t changed. We’re done waiting for this to change.”


In her contribution, Mincéirs Whiden co-ordinator Kathleen Sherlock said Travellers “need the Traveller voice to be heard in the political arena where key decisions affecting our lives are made.


“We need to communicate in the language politicians respond to: vote. This is one way to bring about real change, not just for our generation but for the generations to come. That is what this conference is about,” she added.


The conference also saw the launch of a handbook dedicated to late Nan Joyce, the first Traveller to stand in a general election in the Dublin South West constituency in November 1982.



Martin Ward


Martin Ward made political history in 2003/04 when he served as the first Traveller mayor elected in any city in Ireland, after winning a council seat in Tuam, Co Galway – one of the 1,500-plus residents’ towns with the biggest population of Travellers in the country.


The settled Traveller, who was re-elected mayor in 2007/08, has never doubted the possibility of Travellers playing prominent positions in the future and is optimistic that Travellers “will become TDs”.  While he plans to work for the interest of all constituents, Martin also hopes to use the opportunity to build up stronger bonds between the settled people and Travellers.


Catherine Coffey O’Brien


Catherine Coffey is a new Workers’ Party candidate running in Cork City North West. The volunteer worker and community activist is a survivor of industrial abuse.


A member of the Traveller community, Catherine is originally from Co Kerry and has been living in Cork for over 10 years.


Catherine said she would “commit myself to making sure the voices of the forgotten and undervalued are heard and that no false promises will be made. Transparency will be at the forefront of everything I do [if elected].”



Julia O’Reilly


Julia O’Reilly is an independent local election candidate for Longford. “I believe myself to be a strong voice not just for the few but the many. I hope to form a great friendship with the people of Longford,” she says.


If elected, the Traveller woman said she would, among other things, improve the physical look of the county; campaign for the creation of a family resource centre; and promote programmes for better mental health. She would also encourage the creation of family emergency housing with playgrounds.



Compiled by Chinedu Onyejelem


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