Thursday 27 November 2014

Tragic suicides highlight crisis in Traveller society

Published 04/08/2013 | 05:00

SAD LOSS: Katie Faulkner was found dead at her family home last week
SAD LOSS: Katie Faulkner was found dead at her family home last year

A REAL-LIFE Romeo and Juliet tragedy unfolded among the Travelling community last week.

But the tragic deaths of 15-year-old Katie Faulkner from Limerick and her 17-year-old boyfriend TJ Donoghue from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, just one day apart, have again highlighted the disturbing level of suicides in the Travelling community.

A delicate cloak of pink flowers now decorates the grave where Katie was buried on Tuesday morning last at Mount Saint Oliver Cemetery in Limerick, adorned with cards with messages of love, loss and regret.

Katie's body was discovered at the family home at Long Pavement halting site last Sunday.

The following day, the remains of TJ, who is believed to have been in a relationship with Katie, were found at woodland near his home.

Katie's family, who were unaware that she was in a relationship, said last week that she was always the "happiest of young girls".

Friends and family set up a dedicated Facebook page for tributes to the tragic pair on Tuesday, which has since been inundated with more than 4,641 'likes' and hundreds of comments and condolences.

"True love, modern-day Romeo and Juliette," one woman posted on the site.

"Even death can't part true love. Heaven has two beautiful angels."

According to a 2008 study, 40 per cent of suicides in the Travelling community are related to bereavements, particularly in the case of a loved one's suicide, which makes for a worrying trend.

"What is of major concern is that in 40 per cent of cases where a Traveller took his/her life following the death of somebody close, that death itself was also a suicide," the author, social worker Mary Rose Walker, wrote.

"Included here are suicides which very closely followed the news that a relative was seriously ill and may be about to die. The view of the respondent was that the anticipation of the death so greatly disturbed these individuals that they took their own lives."

The study by Ms Walker, entitled Suicide Among the Traveller Community, also indicated that 65 per cent of Travellers who took their own lives were under 30, as opposed to the 34 per cent of suicides in the general population that were under 30.

This week, Samaritans' Regional Director for Ireland Pio Fenton explained that for cultural reasons, members of the Traveller community in Ireland often find it difficult to talk.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Traveller community in Ireland is a very insular and marginalised group who, for cultural reasons, find it difficult to talk about their feelings, particularly with outsiders," he told the Sunday Independent.

"It's important for Traveller people to know that no matter how they're feeling, what they've done or what life may have done to them, Samaritans is there round the clock every single day of the year. All calls are confidential and we don't judge or give advice. We've found that when a person is in crisis, talking to us can help them get through that moment."

The All-Ireland Traveller Health Study in 2010 found that the suicide rate among Travellers was six times the national average and accounted for 11 per cent of all Traveller deaths.

Organisations such as Pavee Point and the Irish Traveller Movement are working to prevent further tragedies in their community.

"In relation to the suicides last week, I'd like to convey my condolences to the families and extended family of the young people concerned," Martin Collins of Pavee Point Travellers' Centre said.

"It's very tragic and sad and unfortunately suicide is increasing within the community. We are talking about something here that is at crisis levels and quite clearly we need to be looking at strategies and solutions to address this.

"Suicide is a very complex issue and there is no simplistic single explanation as to why anybody would take their life," he added.

"But I do think that it's important that we look at the context in which people find themselves, and when you look at the Travelling community, the context is one of poor educational attainment, high unemployment rates, huge health inequalities, huge issues around discrimination and racism, and there's also lack of self-esteem and confidence in one's identity.

"These factors have a role to play in why young people in particular get depressed and stressed out and have suicidal thoughts. The message we need to get across is that there is a range of services available that may lift some of the burden you are experiencing."

The Samaritans' 24-hour contact line is 1850 60 90 90

Sunday Independent

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