Travellers get 'raw deal' - Harney


Minister for Health Mary Harney has said she has always been passionate about the cause of the Travelling community because they get such “a raw deal”.

Referring to a recently published study, the Minister said the average life span for male Travellers is 15 years less than the settled population and nearly 12 years less for Traveller women.

She was speaking at an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of Exchange House, Ireland’s largest service centre for the Traveller community, in Dublin this morning.

The centre, which was set up in response to media attention concerning a group of young homeless Travellers sniffing glue in Dublin city centre, provides support, training and advocacy for and by the Traveller community.

Congratulating the centre on its anniversary, Ms Harney said Exchange House provides a “fantastic” range of services that meet the needs of “one of the most vulnerable groups” in our society.

However, she said the most important service the centre provides is that of “empowering the Travellers themselves.”

“Empowering them to take control of their own lives, take control of their own destiny and do things they never did before,” she added.

Director of Exchange House Heydi Foster said although Travellers are better educated and living longer than when the centre started 30 years ago a considerable amount of social problems remain.

And she said there is still deep rooted discrimination against the Traveller community.

Ms Foster said the economic crisis was placing “huge stress” on Traveller families and referrals to the centre had increased by 35 per cent in the last two years. She called for a redoubling of efforts at the centre "otherwise commitments to social justice and equality ring hollow for those who are the most excluded members of our society.”

Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin also blessed the centre during the ceremony.

“I shouldn’t be giving the blessing, but I should be recognising the Travelling community as a blessing for our Irish community,” he said.

Exchange House is hosting a series of events, including the national educational achievement award, over three days to celebrate the anniversary.