shocking epidemic | 

Traveller activist who lost 29 family members to suicide says government action is needed

‘Unfortunately, for our men and our women, they've only three choices in life, the graveyard, the courtyard or the prison yard’

Mags Casey

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A leading member for the Irish Traveller movement has said the abject rejection of her people in Ireland that has led to an epidemic of suicides among her community.

Mags Casey, the chairperson of National Traveller Mental Health Network had earlier helped to set up set up the National Traveller National Health Campaign because of the high suicide rates among the Traveller community.

Shockingly, Mags has lost a total of 29 members of her family to suicide over the last decade.

“I would have been personally affected by this issue as I have lost 29 members of my own family and all in the space of 10 years,” Mags said. “I would have lost little cousins, one was 12.

“To be honest, I think it down to the inequalities that we, as an indigenous people, feel in this country.

“I think it’s (because) we’re constantly being told that we’re not good enough. We live with a constant anticipated anxiety and (are) subjected to prejudice and racism and rejection on a regular basis.

“And I think, then, that you begin to internalise that - that you have no worth. Even if you come from the settled community and you lived in extreme deprivation there is still hope of getting employment or education.

“But our community is constantly being rejected, and we’re actually rejected on our own soil. ”We’re proud Irish people but we pay a high price for passing down our traditions from one generation to another.”

“And politically, no party now wants to go back and examine that statistic because it would shine a very stark light on what is happening to their own indigenous people in Irish society.

“Unfortunately, for our men and our women, they've only three choices in life, the graveyard, the courtyard or the prison yard."

Dozens of Travellers recently gathered outside Leinster House to call on the Taoiseach to recognise their right to access appropriate mental health services.

The National Traveller Mental Health Network said that successive governments have failed to address the "dire conditions" in which Travellers are living.

“What has happened over the last 50 years is that Travellers like myself have tried to engage with various governments to shape and implement policy for Travellers.

"But then we’ve realised that in all those years that there was never any real intention of implementing anything. In some ways there was a false pretence there.

“Since 1963 government policy has revolved around assimilating us, to make us more like settled people, but they need to work with us now to undo a lot of the damage.

“I think then that could provide solutions going forward that could actually lead to a better society for all.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article contact Samaritans by calling 116 123 (freephone) or emailing

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