'Children as young as 11 have taken their lives': Traveller suicide crisis in Cork community

Director for Advocacy at the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, Breda O’Donoghue said that suicide in the Traveller community does not discriminate on grounds of age or gender and has taken root with tragic consequences in Cork City.
'Children as young as 11 have taken their lives': Traveller suicide crisis in Cork community

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald TD with Breda O’Donoghue, right, director for advocacy, Cork Traveller Visibility Group Ltd, at the Traveller’s protest earlier this week. Members of the Traveller community held a protest outside Leinster House calling on the Taoiseach to recognise their right to access appropriate mental health services. Picture: Gareth Chaney/ Collins Photos

REPORTS of children as young as 11 taking their own lives in the Cork Traveller community have fuelled calls for specialist mental health services to prevent further tragedies.

Director for Advocacy at the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, Breda O’Donoghue said that suicide in the Traveller community does not discriminate on grounds of age or gender and has taken root with tragic consequences in Cork City.

“Suicide has taken the lives of people in our community from the age of 11 to the age of 74,” she said.

“Since February, and in the northside of the city alone, we have lost four people between the ages of 20 and 30. In recent years there has been a very broad age spectrum with children of 12, 13, and 14 years of age all losing their lives to suicide. The youngest we have heard of has been 11 but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been younger. What’s shocking is that nobody is shocked anymore.”

“We can’t bury any more of our children or loved ones,” she said. “How many more coffins are we going to have to carry before somebody stands up and listens?”

Former Cork North Central Independent election candidate TJ Hogan said wide-ranging change and Government support for the Traveller community are needed urgently.

“The community is washing itself out,” he said.

“Young people don’t see a future in Ireland. There are people from the age of 12 right up to grandfathers and grandmothers who are dying by suicide in the community.”

PROTEST

Members of the Traveller community protested outside Leinster House last Tuesday to have mental health among this cohort prioritised as a human right.

The demonstration formed part of a wider campaign to provide suitable access to mental health supports.

Organised by the National Traveller Mental Health Network, it highlighted previous concerns regarding government failure to address serious issues affecting the community.

Its previous demonstration was held last December outside the Dáil to mark International Human Rights Day.

Ms O’Donoghue attended the event and is pleading with the government to show their support.

She said there is extreme pressure being placed on Travellers.

“This is as a result of Travellers tirelessly trying to protect their own culture. Every element of our culture is being pulled away from us over time and we can no longer live as the community we were meant to be.

“That is having a huge impact on the physical and mental health of Travellers. When you take into account everything from health and education to accommodation there are so many discrepancies across the board.”

The advocate described how mental health issues can destroy multiple lives.

“When you have a suicide in an extended family it sets off a sequence of events. If you’re standing on the outside looking in you can nearly pinpoint who is going to be next.

“This is not just young people. We have seen granddads and even a great-grandmother lost to suicide.

TJ Hogan, a member of the Traveller community: Families are being ripped apart, I’ve lost three members of my own family to suicide.	Picture: Jim Coughlan
TJ Hogan, a member of the Traveller community: Families are being ripped apart, I’ve lost three members of my own family to suicide. Picture: Jim Coughlan

“There is a constant state of fear and guardedness in the community. A mental health strategy needs to be rolled out but that’s not happening. Not one government representative came out to meet us at the protest on Tuesday. Senator Eileen Flynn needs the support at government level in order to bring about any kind of change.”

CHANGE NEEDED

Mr Hogan, who is a member of the Traveller community, said that change is needed now more than ever.

He described how the issue has impacted his family first-hand.

“Families are being ripped apart,” he said.

“I’ve lost three members of my own family to suicide. When something like this happens it doesn’t just affect the immediate family. The fact that we are such a small family makes for a huge ripple effect. Going to the funerals of people who have died in this way has become normalised now, more so than celebrations.

“Kids should be burying their parents or grandparents but that’s not the case in my community.”

He urged anyone experiencing suicide ideation to seek out support.

“It’s very hard to describe the process of what you go through after a family member takes their own life. It takes a long time to accept that the person you lost was unable to reach out to you.

“I always say that if there is a hand there grab hold because we can all help each other out. However, this needs to be a political priority. If it’s not we’re going to lose a whole generation and that change won’t be reversible.”

He said that the issue needs to be addressed from a political standpoint.

“There’s no accountability nationally in relation to any aspect of action.

“We seem to be hitting walls and there has been no explanation for why suicides have been so high from a political standpoint.

“I think that’s why it was so important to highlight the issue. There seems to be very little response in relation to solutions around how we can support the community. These are real situations going on near us that need to be given political priority.”

Mr Hogan emphasised that more action is required to bring about positive change in the Traveller community.

“What we are really asking for is a sit down with the government and the people who have the power to bring about real change rather than going through endless reports.

“It needs to be a political priority. The Traveller is one of the most researched communities in our country yet there is still such social division in relation to being anywhere in comparison to the settled community.”

Anyone in need of support for suicide ideation can visit pieta.ie.

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