Travellers Must Vote

By Martin Collins, Co-Director Pavee Point

During Traveller Pride 2015, the then Minister for Equality Aodhán Ó Ríordáin launched a Mincéirs Whiden voter education pack titled, Getting Democracy to work for the Traveller Community. The pack highlights the importance of Travellers registering to vote and to exercise that vote. The pack also gives guidance on how and where to register to vote.

Unfortunately, we know only too well that very few Travellers register to vote and even fewer actually vote. This in my view is shameful. Not only do we have a right to vote, but in fact I believe we have a civic duty to vote. We must remind ourselves that there are people in many countries who are struggling and are being killed for the right to have a democratic political system, and the right to elect their own leaders.

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In 1982, Tony Gregory was elected to the Dáil Éireann as an Independent. Both Charles Haughey and Garrett Fitzgerald were bidding for his vote; his vote was crucial in how the government would be formed. As it turned out, he made a deal with Charles Haughey, which included nationalizing a 27-acre site in Dublin port. A budget of £4 million was allocated to employ 500 extra people in the inner city, and funding was made available to build 440 new houses in the inner city. One vote does, and can make a difference.

Elections are won and lost (sometimes) on a handful of votes. This is why time and time again we see candidates calling for a recount. We need to be more pro-active in engaging with the democratic process – at local authority level, at national level and at the European Parliament level. These processes make vital decisions that impact on our everyday lives. For example, access to healthcare, education, accommodation and employment.

“One day I will be the first black president of South Africa,” Nelson Mandela, 1952.  He was made President in 1994.

We can, by voting, influence how business gets done. Lets not forget, as Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said at the launch of the pack, politicians will look at the register of voters and they will know whether or not you are voting. They obviously will not know who you are voting for – but they will know if you are voting. If they know you don’t vote and you come to their clinic with an issue, they will not take your issue seriously- it’s as simple as that.

“Since my release, I have become more convinced than ever that the real makers of history are the ordinary men and women of our country; their participation in every decision about the future is the only guarantee of true democracy and freedom,”  Nelson Mandela, ‘The Struggle is My Life’, 1990.

Not only should we register and vote, but we also need to encourage Travellers to stand as candidates in elections. We’ve had some success in that regard –  people like Nan Joyce, the first Traveller to stand for national election back in the early 1980s. Over the years we have had Travellers such as Tom Stokes, Martin Ward and Rosaleen McDonagh run and win elections and we need to build on this.

A general election is looming and could be called any day. Please get registered and vote and scrutinize all of the candidates both Independents and members of parties on what their policies are on Travellers. Inform yourselves.

In conclusion, we must remember that African Americans after a long civil rights movement were only granted the right to vote in 1965. It was people like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Malcom X and many others who fought so hard and in some cases gave their lives for this right and paved the way for the next generation for African Americans to have a better future. We now as Traveller leaders have that same responsibility for the next generation of Travellers.

“Democracy is not just the right to vote, it is the right to live in dignity,” Naomi Klein, Canadian author and social activist.