Tuesday, 14 November 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Cuffe: The Government needs to act immediately on the report entitled Suicide and the Young Traveller, which was published by Catholic Youth Care last Friday. It is crucial that we act on the report’s recommendations which call for action to address the high rate of suicide among young Travellers. The report stated that there have been 35 suicides among the Traveller community in west Dublin alone in the past 18 months. This is an appallingly high figure, which requires immediate action from the Government.
According to figures cited by the Minister of State, Deputy Tim O’Malley, over 80% of the public believes the Government is not doing enough to raise awareness of and prevent suicide. There are clear recommendations in the report so it is incumbent on the Minister of State to say exactly what he will do about them. To be frank, however, I am worried. A contributing factor to suicide is a lack of self-esteem. As a public representative, the Minister of State should reflect on the remarks he made last August when he stated that the appearance of Travellers is treated with groans of despair in every town and village in Ireland. Such remarks are demeaning and undermine the self-worth of the Traveller community, which is one of the main contributing factors leading to suicide. It is deeply worrying that such a remark would come from a senior political figure in high office, such as the Minister of State.
I would be the first to admit that there are good and bad apples in every community, including the Traveller community, but the Minister of State should ensure that he treats members of that community with the respect they all deserve, regardless of the actions of particular individuals. As the Minister of State well knows, many Traveller families are still living in appalling conditions alongside busy roads and under high voltage electricity pylons. If the Minister of State is serious about tackling suicide, he should look at his own actions as well as ensuring that the Government and local authorities place more priority on the needs of the Traveller community.
It is an indictment of the Government’s policies that this report was funded from national lottery allocations, private companies and charities, rather than directly by the Minister of State’s Department. It is appalling that Catholic Youth Care had to seek lottery funding for a report such as this one. It had to wait for private companies to contribute, which is an indictment of the Minister of State’s actions.
The report contained four specific recommendations: greater access to counselling; better access to mental health services; increased support for children who have experienced suicide in their families or communities; and increased information on the issue of suicide. All this costs money and I am not convinced that the Minister of State or his party are prepared to put the resources into these issues. I read his speech of last Friday and it was hard to find any specifics in it. It was laced with rhetoric, heavy on platitudes and did not really address the core needs of the Traveller community, which is a very vulnerable group.
Some of these individuals have tried to commit suicide five times, which was well known to the groups working with them. That requires greater assistance from the Minister of State’s office and from other State agencies. What specific changes will the Minister of State put in place to try to bring about a reduction in this appallingly high toll on one of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in Irish society today?
Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Mr. T. O’Malley): First, I am disappointed that Deputy Cuffe took this occasion to raise my remarks about an incident in Limerick last summer. Those remarks have nothing to do with the Adjournment debate. They were about a specific incident that happened involving a specific group of Travellers.
Mr. T. O’Malley: That was a specific group of Travellers, the vast majority of whom were driving 2006 Range Rovers, causing havoc for a well settled, elderly community in Limerick. I ask the Deputy to acquaint himself with the facts before speaking about any matter. More than any other county, Limerick has a bigger number of Travellers in the settled community than any other group. The Deputy should acquaint himself with the facts before questioning my bona fides in this regard.
Mr. T. O’Malley: Last Friday, I launched the research report Moving Beyond Coping, which provides an insight into the experiences and needs of Travellers in dealing with the experience of suicide. The report outlined the high rate of suicide among Travellers in west Dublin. This research data is a welcome resource for organisations working with Travellers in the west Dublin area. It will assist Travellers in the area in making more informed decisions to address issues on their own behalf and in partnership with the relevant service providers and agencies.
Reach Out, the national strategy for action on suicide prevention, was launched in September 2005. A fundamental aim of this strategy is to prevent suicidal behaviour, including deliberate self-harm, and to increase awareness of the importance of good mental health among the general population. Ongoing quality, multi-disciplinary research will be an essential strand of this strategy. These findings will be of greatest value where they can inform and stimulate action and service development.
As highlighted in the Catholic Youth Services report, the National Office for Suicide Prevention has agreed a three year funded project with traveller groups and Crosscare. The project will employ a staff member to develop training packages and materials suitable for this community. The National Office for Suicide Prevention is also working with Pavee Point, local Traveller groups and the parish of the Travellers to determine the best way of addressing suicide and deliberate self-harm among the Traveller community.
The regional suicide prevention resource officers of the Health Service Executive respond to suicides among the Traveller community, organising bereavement support services and working with community leaders and local clergy in providing support in the immediate aftermath of a death by suicide.
The Reach Out strategy recognises that certain groups are particularly vulnerable to suicide. A counselling service is also being developed in Galway as a partnership initiative between the Galway Traveller Movement, the adult survivors of abuse counselling service and the HSE resource officer. However, in general, the uptake of mental health services among Travellers is believed to be low and where they are availed of, various problems are encountered which may be due to a combination of inappropriate provision and a lack of awareness or confidence among Travellers regarding the services.
In conclusion, I assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to the implementation of suicide prevention initiatives in the Traveller community and the further development of our mental health services to prevent and reduce further tragic loss of life.
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