In a time of crisis and economic uncertainty often deep prejudice and harsh judgements can be made towards vulnerable groups in society. Social welfare recipients, ethnic minorities, the elderly, the gay community are just some examples of groups who often are victims of prejudice harsh judgements and criticism. The travelling community are an ethnic minority who co-exist in nearly every community in our country.
At a personal level in ministry I value the friendship of many travellers. Many travellers integrate very well into the life of their community. However, many don’t and find it a constant struggle both in terms of being accepted and integrating into the mainstream. A report conducted by a group of researchers at U.C.D. led by Cecily Kelleher of the School of Public Health Physiotherapy and Population Science surveyed over 32,000 (80%) of the total Travelling Community in the Republic. The reports findings confirm travellers certainly in my opinion continue to suffer victimisation and social exclusion.
The report revealed life expectancy for traveller women in the republic was just over 70years, that’s 11½ years less than for women in the general population. For men, life expectancy was under 62 years that is 15years fewer than for the general population of men. The survey went on to reveal that suicide accounted for 11% of all traveller deaths. The suicide rate in male travellers was 6.6times more than in the general population. The female suicide rate was also much higher. More than 52% of travellers aged between 40 and 60 years had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a high proportion living with diabetes. The study also in relation to housing discovered that 73% of travellers lived most frequently in a house and 18% lived in trailer/mobile home or caravan. Flushed toilets were available in more than 60% of trailer/ mobile home or caravan sites which means 40% did not have flush toilets. The study also discovered that 28.8% of travellers had difficulty reading. Nearly 40% of 30-44year olds barely had received a primary education. I suggest this government’s latest direct cut-backs to primary resources in education for travellers will allow this frightening reality to continue in future generations.
In the republic 62% of Travellers experienced discrimination compared with 21% of African Americans and 9% of Hispanics in the U.S.A. Travellers experienced discrimination in shops, pubs, restaurants, and many public places. Reflecting on these shocking statistics Vincent Browne in a recent article on the Irish Times, declared “The budget for traveller health has been cut progressively by more than 5% per annum in recent years. Visiting teachers to travellers have been ended. There has been massive reduction in after school programmes to travellers and the cuts in social welfare and rent supplements have impacted so severely on this vulnerable community. More and more travellers are taking their own lives.
Travelling culture and its unique ethnicity is indeed a rich one. Yes some of its members like every other mainstream community behave and engage in an anti-social acceptable manner. The challenge of the Gospel confronts our attitudes of prejudice. Jesus of Nazareth spent most of his time with lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors. Inclusivity is more than a nice idea. It’s not just the job of government it’s all our task to try and allow everybody reach the potential God has planted in all our hearts.