By Anastasia Crickley, Chairperson, Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre

Ronnie left us in the early hours of today, January 31st 2022. Her passing is a huge loss for Philip, Jonathan, Veronica and Paddy and all her family and friends who have journeyed with her to the end through her long and courageous battle against her illness and its curtailments. Our heartfelt sympathy goes to them all including our friend and colleague, her sister Oonagh.

Her leaving is a huge loss also for Pavee Point where she continued to contribute right up to the last months in spite of her worsening condition and associated COVID restrictions. Ronnie will be sadly missed by Travellers around the country and by the wider community sector and all here and elsewhere who struggle with Travellers and Roma and marginalised and minority communities for equality, justice and rights including women’s rights.

Ronnie was determined not to be defined by her illness and to be able to celebrate Christmas 2021 as always with her family. Her courage and consistency made this possible, even if the still looming COVID threat curtailed things somewhat. She continued in regular communication with a number of friends and colleagues offering as ever clear and direct advice and support even after she was recently admitted to hospital. She sought for as long as she could to be an active participant in developing her own care plan, once more seeking health service engagement but this time for herself.

Traveller and Roma Rights

Pavee Point’s Traveller Health Work which Ronnie initiated, developed and led over the years is recognised here and elsewhere as groundbreaking. But her lifelong contribution to Pavee Point and to Traveller and Roma rights everywhere goes well beyond this important dimension.

Joining John O’Connell as a young community worker to pioneer the first rights based adult Traveller education programme in 1985 and to work to embed the values and outcomes associated with this approach, Ronnie contributed very significantly to both.

Ronnie leads out on a Traveller Primary
Healthcare workshop in Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre 1994. . ©Photo by Derek Speirs

She travelled tirelessly up and down the country to support new and emerging groups.  Alongside others she led the initiation of the now National Traveller Women’s Forum in 1988 and contributed to the initiatives which led to the commencement of a number of local, regional and national organisations including the Irish Traveller Movement.  

Ronnie (Right) on a visit to Avila Park,
Finglas in 1988. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Ronnie was hugely respected by the Traveller community over many years for her capacity to act alongside and take the side of the discriminated and disadvantaged even in the most difficult times. Her commitment to, and deep friendship with, Travellers and Traveller women in particular leaves many to mourn her loss today and in the times to come.

Traveller Health Initiatives

This commitment was in no small way the basis for the change-seeking health initiatives and their against- the-odds achievements she will always be identified with. The health initiatives took national shape following a training programme and Pavee Point 1991 pilot initiative to now consist of 27 Traveller Primary Health Care Projects, eight Traveller Health Units and a number of associated projects around the country. The approach is recognised by the World Health Organisation for its protection of Travellers’ right to health. 

Launch of breast cancer awareness resources for Travellers. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

She looked to embed this work and the other changes essential to address significant and systemic Traveller health inequalities through pioneering work with Traveller women on the first National Traveller Health Strategy and initiation of the Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study. She continued to fight for implementation of Our Geels recommendations, including a National Traveller Health Action Plan. Unfortunately she had to leave us before the Plan’s long awaited publication.

The Road Less Travelled

With Martin Collins as Co-Director, Ronnie led Pavee Point with courage and determination, great strategic capacity, and ever prepared to go the road less travelled, from the time of John’s also untimely death in 1999 until now. She was always prepared to go the road less travelled, never prepared to take no for an answer but always ready to try new initiatives. And, as many will remember, she was not afraid to challenge or stand up for what she believed in, in spite of power differentials and dug-in discrimination.

Visit of members of the European Commission Justice Unit to Pavee Point Traveller
and Roma Centre 2016. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

She supported the ongoing Pavee Point focus on women’s equality and the development of our Violence against Women Programme. Clear that our long-standing commitment and involvement with Roma needed enhancement as the numbers of Roma in Ireland increased, and of the parallels and differences in discrimination experienced, she spearheaded the development of Pavee Point’s Roma programme and along the way developed firm friendships with Roma women and men.

(LtoR) Marianna Pruteanu, Anastasia Crickley, Tica Muntean, Ronnie Fay, Gabi Muntean in 2015. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Ronnie significantly promoted the now established need, which still awaits full implementation, for disaggregated data and ethnic equality monitoring as a basis for identifying and addressing discrimination and racist differentials and was key to ensuring the inclusion of Traveller and more recently Roma ethnicity in the national census. She also promoted the significance of the social determinants of health in all their diversity rightly dismissing the often blamed lifestyles which marginalised people have no say over.

Presentation to President Michael D. Higgins and Sabina Higgins of Traveller Ethnicity pin at Aras an Uachtarain 2017. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

As Pavee Point programmes grew and diversified over the years Ronnie sought support from a wide array of funders to create the conditions to make the work possible. She also fought, sought and encouraged others to seek continuation of independent Traveller Projects when these were threatened with assimilation into other structures. This contributed majorly to the development, and resourcing, of the now reinforced and independent National Traveller Partnership of 17 local projects. The struggle for acknowledgement of Traveller ethnicity, she had been part of since 1985, led to its public Dáil recognition by the Taoiseach in 2017.

On 1st March 2017, the day of the statement
in the Dáil recognising Traveller ethnicity. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Solidarity

Ronnie continued and grew our founding commitment to solidarity with others both at home and elsewhere. This lives on in European, Council of Europe and UN engagements and submissions and was recently recognised in the international OSCE Max van der Stoel Award. This award won by Pavee Point specifically acknowledged Pavee Point’s COVID work and its outcomes which an already increasingly ill Ronnie spearheaded. Pavee Point’s protection of Traveller health during COVID has also been publicly acknowledged by An Taoiseach Michael Martin.

As a community worker Ronnie always contributed to the wider community sector believing that collective work across groups was essential to address the racism, discrimination, poverty and exclusion experienced by so many including Travellers and Roma, and also believing that she should contribute to overall community empowerment. She has long been active in national community sector initiatives with her last public engagement as the current chairperson of Community Work Ireland only a few short months ago when she chaired a national conference with Mike Ryan WHO as lead speaker.

Ronnie facilitating “Community Work in a Changing Ireland”, course for Travellers and Roma in Maynooth University in 2017 ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Sport

Meanwhile Ronnie also made time to maintain and express her interest and commitment to sport in general and camogie and hurling, in particular. As well as being an enthusiastic spectator she gave effort and energy to coaching local teams and encouraging young players. Throughout she was good fun, ready for a laugh and joke and to make time for friends.

Memories

Many memories from over the years and more recent times come to mind and doubtless will be recounted as we say our final farewells. It remains sad, as we remember her, that she left us before reaching the shortened life expectancy of her many Traveller friends which she struggled so hard to improve.

May she rest in peace and may her courage commitment and determination live on in all who seek to work for the transformations essential here and elsewhere for a just sustainable world for everyone, everywhere. Any may Philip, Jonathan, Veronica and Paddy be comforted in their loss of a great partner, mother and friend.

Ronnie carrying placard at protest against trespass legislation 2002. ©Photo by Derek Speirs