From the Irish Times
THE TRAVELLER: MISSY COLLINS was proud to be counted as a Traveller in last year’s census. “I’d never hide who I am,” the great-grandmother says. “When you have respect for yourself, others should have respect for you.”
But she understands why some people are forced into concealing their status. One of her children was getting on very well in his job until it emerged that he was a Traveller. Everything changed from that moment. “They treated him like all he was good for was cleaning the toilets,” she recalls. Ms Collins also has relatives who are nurses and conceal their Traveller identity because of fear of discrimination.
This is one of the reasons the Traveller population is consistently under-reported in various census reports.
The 2011 census results just published go some way towards redressing this. A new focus on Traveller involvement resulted in a 32 per cent increase in the number of people enumerated as Travellers compared with the 2006 census.
No one believes the Traveller population increased by almost one-third. The increase is down to more Travellers filling in census forms and identifying their status.
The Irish Traveller Movement says the focus on Traveller pride and the campaign to have Travellers recognised as a separate ethnic group encourages Travellers to stand up and be counted.
Its membership officer Damien Walshe says the census still under-counts the number of Travellers. He points to the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study of 2010 which counted a population of more than 36,000 Travellers, compared with the census figure of 29,573.
Martin Collins of Pavee Point says many Travellers did not even get census forms in the 2006 census and had no chance to be counted. “Some enumerators wouldn’t touch a halting site with a barge pole the last time,” he says. Pavee Point was very active in liaising with the Central Statistics Office and doing training with enumerators before last year’s census to ensure this did not happen again.
The census found only 12 per cent of Travellers now live in caravans or mobile homes, compared to 25 per cent in 2006. But this is not necessarily a positive development, according to Travellers. Ms Collins says some Travellers are not being given a choice and are forced into standard local authority housing when they would prefer to live in group housing or on halting sites with their extended families. She lives in a group housing scheme in Finglas, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. “Extended family is very important to us. I’d hate to be put in a house or apartment away from family. I think it can damage you and make you depressed if you are living in an environment with strangers, and maybe facing discrimination.”
Mr Collins agrees, saying some local authorities are not fulfilling their legal obligations to provide Traveller-specific accommodation, so people are forced into standard housing. “There are spurious allegations that there is no demand for it, but we know that is not true.”
The census also highlights the poor life expectancy of Travellers. Of the 29,573 Travellers counted, just 734 fell into the age category of 65 years and over. “The life expectancy of Traveller men is 15 years shorter than for settled men,” Ms Collins says.
She has an 83-year-old aunt, but says it is extremely rare to hear of a Traveller aged over 80. “People are still dying so young. Women are doing better than men, but they are still dying about 11 years before settled women.”
Ms Collins is also alarmed at the increase in suicide among Travellers in recent years. “I really want to highlight that,” she says. “We all know someone who’s been affected. Suicide is seven times higher for Traveller men than in the settled population.”
She says many of the health services on offer aren’t culturally appropriate for Travellers. “And there’s a pride that men wouldn’t want to be seen looking for help.”
She believes the Department of Health should produce a plan of action to improve Traveller health, covering areas such as health checks, eye and hearing tests and mental heath supports.
Traveller groups are looking forward to seeing the full census findings on Travellers later in the year which will cover health, education and employment.
But for now they are happy the census is getting closer to providing a full picture of Traveller life. “For years and years anthropologists and others have been writing our obituary,” Mr Collins says. “But here we have something quite positive.”
THIS IS IRELAND
WHAT REPORT SAID
12% of Travellers were living in mobile homes or caravans when the census was conducted last April
38% The percentage increase of separated Travellers between 2006 and 2011
5,935 Dublin’s total Traveller population, the largest number of any county