Traveller Pride Week


Sir, – This week, Traveller Pride Week is a celebration of the contribution made by the Traveller community to Irish life and a recognition of the obstacles they continue to face.

Anti-Traveller racism has a deep historical legacy in Ireland. Discrimination against nomadic communities has existed for more than 500 years, often in law. (Mincéir academic Dr Sindy Joyce and others have chronicled this.)

Arguably, the apotheosis came with the governmental commission on “the itinerant problem” in the 1960s which declared there could be “no ‘final solution’ until itinerant families were absorbed into the general community”.

Anti-Traveller discrimination pervades the labour, education and healthcare sectors. In the midst of a housing crisis, large sums of money allocated to local authorities for improvements in Traveller housing go unspent each year, usually due to political pressure from local residents.

The purpose of providing such context is not to make us feel bad, which is in itself not useful. Rather, context is necessary to appreciate fully conditions seen today.

Consider health. The disparities faced by Travellers begin at birth and widen thereafter. The All-Ireland Traveller Health Study (AITHS) in 2008 calculated infant mortality rate of Traveller babies at 14.1 per 1,000 live births, compared with 3.9 in Ireland overall. (More recent statistics are lacking.) Working in paediatrics, I have had the pleasure of meeting many Traveller children, full of fun and potential, whose parents know all too well the obstacles that await them.

The AITHS reported the life expectancy of Traveller men and women to be 61.7 and 70.1 years, respectively, compared to 76.8 and 81.6 years in the general population. For men in particular, in whom suicide rates remain alarmingly high, this disparity of 15 years represents a human tragedy. Indeed, the life expectancy of Traveller men today approximates that of Irish men overall in 1945.

These are the marks of a community that is deeply excluded. While the drivers of such statistics are structural, the responsibility to alleviate them falls to individuals.

Occasions such as Traveller Pride Week provide us with an opportunity to reflect on what we each can do to promote inclusion.

As citizens of a Republic ostensibly committed to the equal rights and dignity of all, we must do better. – Yours, etc,