Gardaí and members of the Sligo Traveller community will compete in a keenly anticipated soccer match at the Showgrounds on Tuesday, in a bid to raise awareness of the “beyond crisis” suicide rates in the Traveller population.
Organiser Jamie Murphy, from the Sligo Traveller Support Group (STSG), said it is hoped the match will help "build positive community relations between the Traveller community and the gardaí", as well as promote positive mental health.
It will be the fourth encounter between the two sides and, according to Sligo-based community policing Sgt Angela Cummins, is "a very important event in our calendar".
“It is a great chance for gardaí on the ground to meet with Traveller men, and to break down barriers by having a cup of tea and the chat afterwards,” she said. “There will certainly be a competitive element there too, of course, because after all it will be men out there playing on a pitch.”
The match will be in aid of the suicide prevention charity Northwest Stop.
“The issue of poor mental health and suicide is one that impacts communities across the country and for the Traveller population it is beyond crisis point with suicide rates at least seven to eight times higher that the general population, which is shocking,” said Mr Murphy.
He added the event was also about promoting positive community relations. “I think you wouldn’t usually have a situation where members of the gardaí and a group of Traveller men from Sligo town get the chance to meet in a social environment, and it certainly does help to foster positive community relations.”
Mr Murphy said that if by highlighting the issue they managed, through the game, to reach out to one person struggling with mental health issues and encouraged that person to do something about it “we will have done a good job”.
Patrick Stokes, who has been playing soccer in Sligo for years, said the game provided an opportunity for men to get out of the house and meet up for a chat. "Traveller men think it is a weakness to ask for help but the worst thing people can do is let problems build up," he said.
The winners on the day will be awarded the Martin Mongan Memorial Shield, which commemorates a well-known local Travellers' advocate, who was killed in a road traffic accident in 2014. Mr Mongan had worked as a men's development worker with STSG.