American Civil Rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson has called on President Barack Obama to meet with Ireland’s Traveler Community during his state visit.
Rev. Jackson believes the Irish government is duty bound to schedule a meeting between President Obama and Irish travelers during his May trip.
The veteran campaigner made the call during his own visit to Dublin when he met members of the traveling community and launched an educational DVD for Travelers.
The reverend also called on the Irish Government to formally recognize Travelers as a distinct ethnic group.
“I hope that while President Obama is here, they will make room for him to meet the Travelers because he comes out of a group that faced the Traveler experience,” said Rev. Jackson.
“Presidents tend to be placed on the tourist trail on State visits but President Obama will understand Travelers because he is under attack in the US over his birth and religion.
“They are trying to make him a Traveler. They are trying to marginalize him. I will write to President Obama and advise him to meet with you.”
Jackson spoke for over an hour when he visited the Traveler movement’s Pavee Point headquarters at the old Free Church on North Great Charles Street in Dublin.
In his address, he compared the Traveling Communities’ fight for equality to the Civil Rights movement in America and urged young travelers to follow the lead set by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King and educate themselves.
“Traveler parents must pass on their dreams to their children, not despair,” he said as he urged his audience to take their children to school.
Jackson’s call came in the wake of government cuts of 66 per cent in Traveler education programmes in the last budget, under which 900 of the 1,200 resource Traveler teachers will be reallocated to other duties by September.
He also learnt that a tenth of Travelers who enrol in post-primary education complete it while just 1 per cent go on to third-level education.
Jackson also urged Travelers to: “out will, out determine and outlast those that did not want them to achieve equality.”
“You must demand an even playing field. You get your stars from the scars,” he added.
In his speech, former US Presidential candidate Jackson also urged the current incumbent to cross the border during his Irish visit in May.
“I hope he will go to Belfast and Derry because I think the soil of Ireland is in Dublin but the soul is in Belfast and Derry where the great struggles took place,” added Rev. Jackson.
“President Obama would understand the pain of Derry and the struggles of Belfast and the progress.”
A later meeting with new Prime Minister Enda Kenny saw Jackson deliver his own message of hope for Ireland.
“Keep hope alive, God bless Ireland,” he wrote in the visitor’s book after warmly shaking hands with Kenny at a meeting in government buildings.
The Law Society at University College Dublin will present Rev. Jackson with an honorary life membership on Tuesday.