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Shocking number of Traveller suicides

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Margaret Malone, Wickow County Council; Eamonn McCann, Wicklow Travellers; Jim O'Brien, Bray Travellers; and Mary Rose Walker, at the launch of the Report on Suicide Amongst Travellers.

Margaret Malone, Wickow County Council; Eamonn McCann, Wicklow Travellers; Jim O'Brien, Bray Travellers; and Mary Rose Walker, at the launch of the Report on Suicide Amongst Travellers.

Margaret Malone, Wickow County Council; Eamonn McCann, Wicklow Travellers; Jim O'Brien, Bray Travellers; and Mary Rose Walker, at the launch of the Report on Suicide Amongst Travellers.

A NEW report report launched inWicklow last week reveals that suicide amongst Travellers was five times greater than that of the rest of the population over a seven year period from 2000 to 2006.

The report on suicide amongst members of the Travelling Community was launched on Tuesday at the Wicklow County Campus in Rathnew and was funded by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's 2008 Traveller Interagency and Communications fund administered by Pobal.

Mary Rose Walker, a social worker with Wicklow County Council prepared the report and found that, 'young Travellers today have a lot more in common with their settled peers than their parents' generation did, and to a certain extent, there has been a loss of cultural traditions as they take on the values of mainstream society.

'However, public opinion of Travellers as inferior and as a threat has not changed, and Travellers face huge rejection from the settled population. Some tried to hide their Traveller identity completely.

The rate of suicide among Irish Travellers form 2000 to 2007 stood at 3.70 per 10,000, which was over three times that of the total population. During this time 74 Travellers committed suicide, with things peaking in 2005 when it was over five times the national rate.

The report also found that suicide mainly occurred among the male Traveller population, with four times more men ending their lives than women. The male suicide rate stands at 91 per cent, over nine times that of the female population.

52 per cent of suicide cases in the seven year period covered were men who had never married, and another 15 per cent were separated or widowed. Over 65 per cent of Traveller suicides were aged under 30, and the most at risk group are aged between 25 and 29, accounting for 26 per cent of suicides.

Of the total population in Ireland, 46 per cent of all suicides occur amongst those over 40, but the figure for that age bracket amongst Travellers stands at only 12 per cent.

80 per cent of the suicides covered were from hanging, and 9 per cent by poisoning. While accommodation doesn't seem to play that significant a role, it's still worth noting that the risk of suicide is greater with roadside families.

One factor which is of concern to service providers is that 70 per cent of the suicides which occurred over the seven year period were first time attempts.

The victims came from five different suicide categories. Troubled suicides involve backgrounds with social problems or alcohol abuse and violent behaviour. People who also suffered particular hardship and tragedy in a short space of time also fit into this category.

Motiveless suicide is where there aren't any obvious signs of risk shown by the individual.

Bereavement suicides follow a very noticeable trend with Travellers, and it is more common than expected for someone to end their life following the death of somebody close. Another starting statistic was that in cases 40 per cent of Travellers who commit suicide following the death of someone close to them did so after that particular loved one also committed suicide.

Violence suicides, whether the result of domestic or feuding, was considered a contributory factor in 20 suicide cases. Eight occurred after a violent episode. Four were victims, four were perpetrators.

Ms Walker also notes that legal restrictions and economic reasons have also made it more difficult for Travellers to travel and keep horses, and the loss of activities which play such a major part of the Traveller culture also has a knock-on effect.

'For those without work, who have lost the tradition of travelling and keeping horses, there is nothing to do. Particularly vulnerable are single young men. To alleviate boredom they may drink, take drugs, joy-ride and engage in other forms of antisocial behaviour. All of these risk-taking behaviours are associated with suicide.'

The report concludes that recent changes in society mean Travellers have to cope with increased hostility at a time when they are losing their cultural identity as well. This combined with factors like alcohol or substance abuse, economic insecurity, violence and depression means that an immediate crisis, such as death or marital or relationship problems, can often act as a suicide trigger.


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