I welcome members and viewers who may be watching proceedings on Oireachtas TV. I am told today's meeting might even go viral. It is great that there is such a level of interest in this serious matter of mental health issues and their effects on the Traveller community. This is the first public session of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. The joint committee was established at the end of May to consider a number of topics over the next six months. As such, the clock starts ticking for our work as a committee today.
We are starting our deliberations with mental health, on which we will have three sessions. We will then consider health, education, employment and accommodation and how these issues impact on the Traveller community. As we listen to the voices and undertake our deliberations, I am sure we will realise that all of these matters are interconnected. We will, however, consider them in their own right.
The purpose of today's meeting is to meet and listen to representatives of the Traveller Mental Health Network, the Irish Traveller Movement, Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project, the Wexford Development Group and Pavee Point. Mental health is a critical issue for the committee to consider. Suicide was the cause of 11% of all Traveller deaths in 2010 according to the all-Ireland Traveller study. That report is nearly ten years old and the committee must address the importance of updating that study. The statistics were stark then but we also need to know what the current position is. In 2017, seven years after the 2010 study, the national Traveller behaviour and attitudes study found that suicide affected the lives of 82% of Travellers. It is not only families but the whole community that is affected by suicide, as we will hear in great detail.
While the numbers are shocking, even more shocking is that very little changed between 2010 and 2017. The experiences of racism, exclusion and discrimination that members of the Traveller community face have a profound and deeply troubling impact on mental health. With 90% of Travellers in 2017 agreeing that mental health problems were common in their community, action, not just listening and talking, is urgently required. Over the course of the three sessions we are devoting to mental health, we want to understand the scale and impact of the issue, the causes and drivers of mental ill-health and, crucially, how the State and its agencies respond to the scale of the crisis we have.
The Traveller population is approximately 40,000, which is equivalent to the population of Swords. If there was such a high rate of suicide or mental ill-health in a town with such a population, we would declare a national emergency.
It is very important that we understand this, in that context of mental health. It is grossly misunderstood and under-reported. We, as a committee, need to understand the horrifying effects the mental ill-health epidemic has on Travellers' lives and communities.
Second, we need to address the causes and the pressure points. Mental health cannot be analysed in a vacuum. In the case of the Traveller community, it may be looked at as reaction - a reaction to racism, to unemployment, to persistent discrimination in schools, in workplaces and in the broader society and to poverty.
Third, the committee will recommend responses and solutions to improve the mental health and lives of Travellers.
A greater emphasis needs to be placed on Traveller mental health, without losing sight of the impact of internal factors on a person's mental health, which include the experiences of discrimination, internalised racism, inequality and the lack of cultural respect. Most importantly, however, we must listen to the testimonials we will hear today, to the Traveller community and their voices.
We have with us today the National Traveller Mental Health Network, The Irish Traveller Movement, Pavee Point, the Wexford Traveller Development Group and Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project. In future sessions we will be hearing more voices, including on 8 October, and from health professionals, Government Departments, the Minister and the HSE.
On behalf of the committee I welcome Mr. Martin Reilly from the National Traveller Metal Health Network; Mr. Bernard Joyce from the Irish Traveller Movement; Ms Brigid Quilligan, Kerry Traveller Health Community Development Project; Ms Minnie Connors and Mr. Anthony Walsh from the Wexford Traveller Development Group; and Mr. Patrick Reilly.
One of the matters we need to be very careful about is privilege. Therefore, in accordance with procedures, I am required to draw attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings, which is mental health and Travellers, is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise nor make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make that person identifiable, all of which is very important. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice members to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of these Houses, or on any official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind members and witnesses to turn off their mobile phones because this interferes with the sound system and the recording. I also wish to advise that any submissions or opening statements that witnesses have made to the joint committee will be published on the committee website's after this meeting.
After the presentations by witnesses, there will be questions from members of the joint committee. We will allow all the submissions to be made and will have questions then afterwards, so that we ensure witnesses' voices can be heard first. Questions will follow.
I call on Mr. Reilly to make the opening statement for the National Traveller Mental Health Network.