Eileen Flynn: the first woman from the Traveller Community to take a seat in Seanad Éireann
In 2020, Eileen Flynn made history by becoming the first woman from the Traveller Community to take a seat in Seanad Éireann.
Growing up on Travellers’ halting site in Dublin, Eileen struggled with dyslexia. She left school early but went back to complete her Leaving Certificate Applied, before continuing on the Further Education path but even then, she knew she didn't want the Leaving Cert to define her future.
She says, “I don’t think the Leaving Cert should define young people - who they are and what they go on to do.”
Although she had successfully secured a place on an access course at Trinity College Dublin, Eileen knew she wasn’t ready for university. Instead, she enrolled on a pre-nursing at Ballyfermot College of Further Education which she enjoyed so much that she went on to study their course in Caring for People with Special Needs.
“I loved the Campus,” she says. “It was small and you got to recognise people’s faces. The small lectures and classrooms meant you got to build up good relationships with people in the class, and my tutor was just amazing."
Eileen remembers how her time at Ballyfermot College helped her to understand herself - who she was and who she wanted to be.
“As a member of the Traveller Community, sometimes it is hard for many of us to accept who we are in the world and know that we are just as good as anybody else. When I went to Ballyfermot College I felt just as good as anybody else in my class.
“It was a great experience. People were really interested in my background of being a Traveller person and they wanted to learn about the Travelling community. That’s where I felt that sense of belonging.”
If Eileen had worried that her dyslexia might present another challenge to her studies, she discovered supports to help through weekly meetings with a dedicated tutor and was supported to manage assignments and meet assignment deadlines. " And it was as simple as that. I needed the supports and I got them.”
Although supports are out there, Eileen believes the biggest challenge in the Travelling Community is to get young Traveller women to complete the Leaving Certificate and to help them find a pathway into Further Education and Training that works for them.
“Further Education is not just for one group in society,” she says “It’s for all groups and I have seen that with my own two eyes in Ballyfermot College. I’ve seen wheelchair users, people who are deaf, people who are visually impaired. These courses are for everybody.”
Having gone on to complete a degree course at Maynooth University, Eileen says that FET can help all students to overcome perceived obstacles and to be confident with their place in the world.
“We have these stepping-stones in our life, that change our future. And for me, doing the course in Ballyfermot College was a part of changing my life for the better.”
Having dedicated her career to 'breaking barriers', Eileen hopes that her role in the Seanad will inspire success in young Travellers and young people from other marginalised communities, especially women, to find stepping-stones to their own future. She believes FET can play a key role in achieving that.
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