Belfast Telegraph

Traveller community facing crisis over suicide rates, committee told

Figures show that Travellers experience a six times higher suicide rate, the Oirechtas heard.

Bernard Joyce, director of Irish Traveller Movement, said there has been at least 30 suicide deaths in Traveller communities in Ireland this year (Oireachtas Committee./PA)
Bernard Joyce, director of Irish Traveller Movement, said there has been at least 30 suicide deaths in Traveller communities in Ireland this year (Oireachtas Committee./PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

The Traveller community in Ireland is experiencing a mental health crisis, an Oirechtas committee has been told.

The community is facing unprecedented high rates of suicide and self-harm, with large amounts of Travellers on medication for anxiety and depression.

A number of Travellers told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues Affecting Travellers that there is a lack of follow-on supports or referrals for Travellers who suffer from mental health issues or have been bereaved through suicide.

Figures show that Travellers experience a six times higher suicide rate, accounting for approximately 11% of all Traveller deaths.

Martin Reilly, of the National Traveller Mental Health Network, said Travellers face discrimination on a daily basis in all areas of their life.

He said that is reflected in the high levels of unemployment, low levels of educational attainment and poor living conditions experienced by the majority of Travellers which affects their mental health.

“In addition, the high rates of Travellers in prison accounting for 10% of the overall prison population and 15% for women,” he added.

Bernard Joyce, director of Irish Traveller Movement, said at least 30 suicides have been reported to his organisation from January to August this year in Dublin, Cork, Tipperary, Limerick, Wexford, Clare and Kerry.

“This is thought to be an underestimation,” he told the committee.

“The incidence of suicide in the community is outrunning the very slow progress to date of limited strategies such as Connecting for Life, where Travellers are included in only one of the 69 actions in the 2015 to 2020 National Strategy to Reduce suicide.

“The lack of data, either by way of a national study or of an assessment of need, worsens the problem.

“The Central Statistics Office and National Suicide Research Foundation have a role here when recording and monitoring.

“However, the CSO does not collect statistics on Travellers.

“There is no specific inclusion of Travellers as a high risk group in the HSE’s National Service Plan 2019 either. ”

Being a Traveller, proud of your identity, feels like an act of resistance Brigid Quilligan

Traveller activist Brigid Quilligan said there is national unconscious bias against Travellers in Ireland.

Ms Quilligan, manager of Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project, said it is the last acceptable form of racism in the country.

“Being a Traveller, proud of your identity, feels like an act of resistance,” she added.

“There is no acknowledgement of the hurt, pain, abuse and racism that generations of Travellers in the Irish State have suffered.

“We have developed good initiatives, have good links with the mental health services, yet the mental health issues are increasing.

“The community is besieged with external and internal issues.”

Among a series of recommendations, Ms Quilligan called for Traveller mental health and suicide to be named as a national crisis, as well as an independent national enquiry of the treatment of Travellers and an increase in funding for health and community projects.

Traveller Minnie Connors, who has suffered from a number of suicides in her family, called for the government to formally apologise to the Travelling community for the escalating suicide rate.

Senator Colette Kelleher, chair of the committee, praised the Travellers for their “strong” comments.

“I want to acknowledge the depth of the hurt and the humiliation, and the fact that it passes through the generations,” she added.

Patrick Reilly, a mental health worker at Pavee Point, said he is engaging with Travellers experiencing crisis on a daily basis.

“As a Traveller man, I see directly the impact that suicide and poor mental health is having on my community,” he added.

“To put this into perspective, suicide is so common in our community that it is part of our everyday reality.

“Attending Traveller funerals due to suicide has become so common that we don’t make no wonder of it any more.

“We’re tired of the status quo. Traveller organisations alone cannot take the burden of addressing these issues.

“We have done our part in responding to this crisis by developing local responses within existing budgets which are already under resourced.”

He said that Traveller health has not received any new dedicated funding since 2008.

PA

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