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26 May 2022

Ardara senator warns 'Traveller lives are at stake'

Reports have shown the suicide rate is six times higher for Traveller women and seven times higher for Traveller men than for the general population

Ardara senator warns 'Traveller lives are at stake'

Senator Eileen Flynn

Ardara's independent senator, Eileen Flynn has warned that Traveller lives are at stake due to the lack of provision for their mental health and wellbeing.

She said she would welcome a meeting with Minister Mary Butler on the progress of the National Traveller Mental Health Strategy.

She was speaking after she addressed the Traveller mental health crisis in Seanad Éireann this week.

The senator said a representative of the National Traveller Mental Health Network should also be invited to take part in the meeting.

“The current Programme for Government promised a National Traveller Mental Health Strategy and Travellers need to know when we will see this strategy. Lives are at stake,” she said.

The Committee on Key Issues Affecting the Traveller Community, which Senator Flynn chaired, also recommended the establishment of a national strategy to address Traveller mental health.

Reports have shown the suicide rate is six times higher for Traveller women and seven times higher for Traveller men than for the general population, and at least 82 per cent of Travellers have been affected by suicide.

“The recommendation for a national strategy comes from the National Traveller Mental Health Network, a collective of Travellers and Traveller organisations across Ireland. This is a recommendation rooted in the Traveller experience, that puts Traveller voices at the heart of this conversation.

“We need a stand-alone National Traveller Mental Health Strategy and a ring-fenced budget for this critical work. We need a National Traveller Mental Health Steering Group, and we need the vital expertise and voices of the National Traveller Mental Health Network on that steering group.

“We also need a firm timeline for action, to make sure the work gets done,” she said.

The senator said Vision for Change in 2006, a national mental health framework, called for culturally inclusive mental health services, but all these years later the Traveller mental health crisis has just gotten worse.

“I fear that simply including Traveller mental health in the 2020 Sharing the Vision does not give this crisis the focus we need to turn the tide. This is a crisis, and the solution cannot be an add-on.”

The senator raised the issue in the Seanad on Wednesday during Commencement Matters. Minister Anne Rabbitte told the senator that she will facilitate a meeting between Senator Flynn and Minister Mary Butler, minister of state for mental health and older people.

Senator Flynn said a representative of the National Traveller Mental Health Network should also be at the meeting because she had raised the issue on behalf of the Traveller community.

The senator said: “If the government doesn’t develop and implement a national strategy, what’s the way forward for the Traveller mental health crisis?”

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