Tipperary County Council has one of the best reputations in the country for dealing with Travellers, according to Tipperary Rural Travellers Project.
The project met councillors from Nenagh Municipal District Council in December and told them that they hoped the north end of the county would get its own Traveller development officer.
Tipperary Rural Travellers Project is based in Tipperary Town and is a community development organisation run and delivered by Travellers, co-ordinator Margaret Casey told councillors.
“We aim to participate in Irish society and to have access to quality services,” she said. “We protect and promote Traveller culture and advocate for rights of the Travellers.”
Ms Casey outlined that at the end of the day, Travellers were “as Irish as the Irish themselves”, and they were trying to promote the positive side of Irish Travellers.
“We can’t do that on our own and need the support of the settled community,” said Ms Casey.
The project supports Travellers through accommodation, advocacy, education, health and wellbeing, its men’s development project, Traveller economic development and support to combat alcohol and substance abuse.
“The suicide rate among Travellers is seven times higher than the national average. There have been 18 Traveller suicides in Munster in the past while and the youngest of these was 14 years old,” she revealed. “It is a worrying issue for the Traveller community.”
huge drug problem
Apart from suicide, Ms Casey also said that there was a “huge drug problem” in the Traveller community and the project was trying to promote getting involved in initiatives and had a programme of help through the HSE.
Ms Casey also spoke of the close association between horses and male Travellers, saying the horse played a key part in their culture. “It is key to keeping young Traveller boys out of trouble It keeps them occupied and gives them responsibility. It gives them a positive role,” she said.
When it comes to dealing with issues that affect the Traveller and settled communities, she said: “We need to get away from who is right and who is wrong. We need to create solutions. We have to learn from each other.”
In response, Cllr Seamus Morris said that the local authority needed someone to talk to when problems arose.
“We have Travellers bathing horses in Dromineer during the summer when people are swimming. We could put a place aside if we could find someone to talk to,” he said. “We can’t always be putting out fires.”
He urged Travellers to come to the council and ask where they might bathe their horses, “but not in the middle of where people are swimming”.
Ms Casey said there was a need for a development worker to work closely with the local authority and for someone to say “you are wrong”.
She said many issues could be resolved through a “bit of education”, and told councillors: “My job is not an easy job. I am caught in the middle.”
Cllr Michael O’Meara urged that the issue of suicide be tackled, saying: “There must be something wrong in your community to cause a high level of suicide”.
Meanwhile, friends and families across Tipperary took part in Console’s Christmas Celebration of Light. The evening of song, music, poetry and reflection took place in St Oliver’s Church, Clonmel on Sunday, December 7 at 4pm. (www console.ie). Console is Ireland’s national suicide charity.