Biographies of panellists

Hugh Friel

A winner of the Traveller Pride award in 2015, Hugh sees great potential in the Traveller community, with new leaders in the community coming to the fore. Since joining Donegal Travellers Project (DTP) 20 years ago, Hugh has campaigned tirelessly against institutional and individual racism and to make the Traveller voice heard. He advocates for the Travellers rights within a human rights framework and has worked in leadership roles at both local and national levels. Hugh promotes Traveller participation at all levels of the work of DTP and delivers capacity building programmes to Traveller men. He represents the organisation on local committees such as the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, the Social Inclusion Measures group of the County Council, the Traveller Interagency Committee, the Community Health forum and many other local committees.  Hugh is a council member of Minceir Whiden, National Traveller Health Network and the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy Committee.

Michael McDonagh

A member of the Traveller community, Michael is a well-regarded expert on Traveller History and Culture. He sits on national and international committees in relation to Traveller and Roma issues. Michael McDonagh has been the Manager of Meath Travellers Workshops for over 20 years.
A community activist with a Degree in Community Development, Michael has a passion for the retention of Traveller and Roma identity Heritage and Culture. He also has a diploma in Mediation and Social and Economic Studies.

Mary Collins

Mary Collins, a member of the Traveller community, works part time as a Family Liaison worker with Mayo Traveller Support Group and is the mother of 5 young children. Mary previously worked as a Community Health worker. Mary returned to education as an adult to fulfil her dream of working as a social worker for her own community. She is driven by her own experience of the challenges and barriers faced by Travellers, and knowledge of how this effects well-being.  Mary is passionate about education. She believes if Traveller children get an equal education they will have a brighter future.With her co workers, Mary has taken the lead and delivers culturally appropriate Common Sense Parenting Programmes.   She represented, and show cased, this initiative at an annual Tusla Parenting Conference: Strengthening Parenting Supports through Learning Together’ in Dublin castle in 2018. Mary is also involved in the Travellers’ Journey exhibition at the National Museum with her co-workers at Mayo Traveller Support. 

Oein DeBhairduin

Oein is an ardent folklorist, Gammon speaker, herb worker and an avid keeper of traditions, lore and retellings. Oein is currently the Vice Chair of the Irish Traveller Movement and core member of the national LGBT+ Traveller Support Group, as well as the manager of an adult education centre in South Dublin. He is working in the Houses of the Oireachtas with Senator Colette Kelleher with a distinct focus on Traveller policy, notably in the development of Traveller Culture in the school curriculum. 

Senator Colette Kelleher

Colette has been working for the past three decades to advance the rights and supports for children and young people, people who are homeless, people with disabilities and dementia in Ireland and the UK. She held Chief Executive roles at Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Cope Foundation, Cork Simon Community and Daycare Trust. Colette was an adviser to Margaret Hodge MP and was reappointed to the Seanad by An Taoiseach in May 2016.
Colette attended the University of Southampton and UCC and holds a Bachelor of Social Science, a CQSW and an MBA. Colette recently became a Practioner in Change and Consulting at the Tavistock Institute. Colette is currently studying for a Masters in Family Therapy at the School of Medicine, UCD.
Colette lives in Cork City and is married with two grown up children. She is a recent convert to the gym and healthy living.