The Traveller community’s suicide crisis is a consequence of the State’s efforts to ‘eradicate’ their culture.
Yesterday, RTÉ broadcast Patrick: A Young Traveller Lost about the tragic suicide of a 12-year-old Traveller and his family.
Speaking to The Pat Kenny Show, Thomas McCann, a Counsellor at the Traveller Counselling Service, described the documentary as “heart-breaking" viewing.
“It’s representative of what’s going on in the community and the challenges that many families face,” he said.
“That has been developing over decades.”
Racism and discrimination
In 2010, the All Ireland Traveller Health Study found 11% of Travellers in Ireland die by suicide and no serious research has been done since then.
The report also found that 62.7% of Traveller women reported poor mental health on at least one day in the month before the survey.
Among Traveller men, the figure was 59.4%.
The community’s poor mental health is, Mr McCann believes, a consequence of the racism and discrimination they experience.
“At a very young age, you’re made aware that they [Travellers] are treated very differently in school and then in life in general,” he said.
“We have a huge level of unemployment among Travellers - 80% unemployment.
“Young Travellers can’t get into employment unless they try to conceal their identity and that’s very difficult… because it erodes their self-confidence.”
In 1963, the State published a Report of the Commission on Itinerancy.
It marked a radical shift in the State’s attitude to Traveller culture and meant for many years afterwards officials attempted to assimilate Travellers into settled society.
“The State… institutionalised the whole process of really trying to get rid of Traveller culture,” Mr McCann said.
“I’d really encourage any of your listeners to have a look [it], it’s online and Charles Haughey in the report states there could be no final solution to the problem created by itinerants until they’re absorbed into the settled community.
“All arms of the State [then tried] to eradicate Traveller culture and we’re living with the consequences of that.”
There are an estimated 31,000 Travellers in Ireland.
Main image: A Traveller. Picture by: Alamy.com