Cultural Erosion May Be Leading to Suicides in Irish Traveller Community Says Expert

January 16, 2009 Updated: January 16, 2009

Ms. Mary Rose Walker, Social Worker with Wicklow County Council in Ireland has stated that the loss of Traveller identity and culture among younger members of the Travelling Community may be playing a part in the high rate of suicides in the group.

The Irish Traveller Community are a group of approximately 22,000 people in Ireland who prefer to live a nomadic way of life moving from one place to the next in mobile homes, instead of a settled lifestyle in a house or an apartment.

Last week Ms. Walker published her new report, "Suicide Among the Traveller Community 2000-2006."

Irish TD (Member of Parliament) Dan Neville, Fine Gael Spokesman on Mental Health and President of the Irish Association of Suicideology, has called for a special resource allocation to deal with the high level of suicides among the Traveller Community.

Deputy Neville delivered a keynote address at the launch of a report which was sponsored by the Wicklow Traveller Inter-Agency Group and Wicklow County Council.

The Minister said, “This report adds to our knowledge of suicides in Ireland. It is a nationwide study and as such it is extremely valuable. The issue of high levels of suicide among Travellers must be addressed as a matter of urgency. The Minister for Health and Children must immediately allocate a budget for this purpose to the National Suicide Prevention Office and this must be ring fenced to ensure that the HSE spends the money for which it is allocated."

The Minister added, “I am concerned about the high level of suicides among Travellers. This newly published research has found that the suicide rate among this population is three times higher than the norm.

"Similar to the national trend suicide among Travellers is predominantly male, nine males to one female," he said.

Father Michael Mac Greil the Jesuit priest who was honored with the Hall of Fame Award this year at the Mayo People of the Year Awards, told the Epoch times, “I lived with the Travelling Community for two months. There are only 22,000 Travellers in Ireland and I believe for such a small section of our society that their problems could be addressed more efficiently.”

According to National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism it is clear that the Traveller Community have long suffered from discrimination and prejudice in Irish society. They live with the daily reality of being refused access to a range of services including shops, pubs, hairdressers, and launderettes.

The Racists Incidents Reporting Procedure has documented incidences of racially motivated attacks, harassment and verbal abuse directed at the Traveller Community. They are targeted with offensive labels either on a person to person basis or in the media.

The myths and misunderstandings surrounding the Traveller Community has prevented Travellers from achieving equality in accommodation, health, education and other public and private services.

In Ireland the use of the words Traveller or Travelling Community is how the Travellers prefer to be called. However, they are referred to by other names such as itinerant, Tinker or knacker and the usage of these terms are often derogatory and offensive.

The word knacker is the most offensive in its usage as it reinforces the negative stereotyping of Traveller identity and deny the right of Travellers to identify themselves.