Members of the Irish Traveller community and their allies travelled from across the country to Dublin to send a message to the current government on May 31st outside the Dáil. The protest, which was organised by the National Traveller Mental Health Network, focused on mental health and accountability. This protest also took place on the last day of National Mental Health Awareness Month.
There was close to 500 people in attendance at the protest outside the Dáil which almost got cross party support, however it was noticeable that elected reps from the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael party were either absent or very few in attendance, but there were a couple Green Party reps present, such as Neasa Hourigan, Patrick Costello, Hazel Chu, Minister Joe O’Brien, Minister Malcolm Noonan and Minister Ossian Smyth.
Another reason why the community decided to protest was due to the fact that they were promised a National Traveller Mental Health Strategy by the government, but have not received it yet.
The National Traveller Mental Health Network published stats all over their social media pages to prove why it is urgent that their needs are addressed. Irish Travellers live 15 years than the general population, €58 million of Traveller Accommodation Budgets are usually left unspent, 11% of Traveller Deaths are caused by suicide, 80% of Travellers are unemployed, 83% of employers would not employ somebody from the Traveller Community and 62.7% of Traveller women and 59.4% of Traveller men have disclosed that their mental health was not good enough for one or more days in the last 30 days.
Senator Eileen Flynn, a member of the Traveller community, was a speaker at the protest, saying she felt “shame” as a Senator, sitting in the Seanad as she has spent the last two years begging the Minister for Mental Health to “take responsibility and stand up to the programme of government.”
Flynn wanted the strategy plan to find solutions to “stop our young men and our young women from dying from suicide”. She said this was her 2nd time speaking at an event run by Traveller Mental Health Network and asked the public “how many Travellers have died since then due to suicide?”
“Not only are you discriminated against, you have internalized oppression, externalised oppression, it is so tough to be yourself, to be a member of the Traveller community. You can’t walk up the street and somebody has something to say to you just because you’re a Traveller. We’re not treated as second class citizens in this state. We are treated as rubbish!”.
“We have a national mental health crisis on the Island of Ireland, they are closing down mental health wards, they are closing down mental health hospitals, instead of opening up services. When the cost of living has gone up. Look at the Traveller representation in prison, we’re over represented within our prison system. And who’s been held accountable? Absolutely nobody!”
Speaking to Meath South-East News, Rosemarie Maughan, who is an Irish Traveller from Drogheda told us: “As a Traveller activist, I have helped shaped many National Traveller policies yet I have yet to see one implemented as we watch our people die by suicide to an extent of 11% of all our deaths being by suicide.”