UL sociologist reports impact of COVID-19 on Traveller Community

Concern for increased unemployment among traveller men is one of the findings of a study on the impact of Covid-19 on the Traveller community.

The 2020 research study conducted by Dr. James Carr, Sociology Lecturer at the University of Limerick, has shown how the traveller community in particular are feeling the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The study was published with the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and their national contact point in NUI Galway.

“Traveller men work in construction, trades, sales, service occupations among others. The implications of Covid-19 restrictions have been profound on these sectors,” said Dr. Carr.

Speaking about his experiences of employment as a member of the Travelling community, William Casey said: “You never see a traveller pulling you a pint, or making you a chicken roll. The reason you don’t is because after years our society has made it unapproachable, so Traveller people end up sticking to themselves and settled people stick to themselves. It needs to change.”

William Casey, better known for his stage name ‘Willzee,’ is a Limerick-based musician, script-writer, and spoken word poet.

In 2019 he wrote the winning script in the Virgin Media Discovers Short Film Competition for his film ‘Innocent Boy’ which premiered at the Dublin International Film Festival last year.

Willzee believes travellers are not being supported when it comes to mental health, and the pandemic has only worsened this situation.

“Travellers don’t know how to deal with their emotions, that’s why the community had the highest suicide rates in 2017 in Ireland across the whole board,” he says.

Spoken word poet and rap artist Willzee

Dr. Carr’s study also highlighted the concerning statistic that the mortality rate for Traveller men in Ireland is 3.5 times that of the general population, and for Traveller woman it is 3.1.

Willzee said: “No one knows that there’s no services provided for us, or the fact that a traveller’s life expectancy is 65 years, and it’s due to the lack of healthcare education, mental health services and living conditions.”

During the pandemic, the Travelling community were at higher risk of contracting the virus due to living conditions.

Children within the community were ‘severely impacted’ by school closures due to lack of internet access and facilities at home.

Willzee says even in 2021 he sees a lot of Traveller children who are just being ‘forgotten about,’ and that the organisations in place are not doing enough to change this.

“Yes, there’s organisations that support us, but they also just showcase us. What they need to do is set up organisations remotely for the health and welfare of travellers.”

When asked about recent negative press surrounding funeral gatherings, Willzee said: “There’s a lot of people putting lives at risk, they just don’t make the headlines like we do.

The protests and street parties and everything, they’re way worse than a community coming together to pay respects for a lost loved one.” P

avee Point, a national non-governmental organisation that promotes Traveller rights, has been asking the travelling community to follow the allowed numbers at funerals and said in a statement last year that their actions were ‘putting lives at risk.’

Martin Collins, Co-Director of Pavee Point said: “At the end of the day, this is about protecting the lives of those who attend the funeral and about protecting the lives of those in the surrounding area.”

Willzee says he hopes for a future where the divide between the settled and the travelling community will be eradicated.

“It’s important to let people come around to the idea of having travellers more involved in communities. At the end of the day everyone is human and it costs nothing to be nice,”

“Sometimes if you just take an extra moment to consider someone’s feelings, you might be able to help more so than make it worse. We’re only on this earth for a few years so we might as well make the most of it,” he added.

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