I welcome all members of the joint committee and those who are watching. I understand these committee hearings are attracting considerable interest on Oireachtas News, which is good because not everybody can come here. I welcome our visitors to this meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. The purpose of the meeting is to continue our deliberations on Traveller health. We are meeting representatives of the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, the Health Service Executive and the Irish College of General Practitioners. We all agree that health and ill health are key issues affecting Travellers who have significantly lower levels of life expectancy and higher rates of infant mortality when compared to the general population.
It is not just a small difference. It is a very big difference, and that is why we are having these sessions.
The facts on the level and scale of ill-health among Travellers and the health inequalities experienced by Travellers, as presented to the committee by the submissions and the presentations, are stark in many ways and they speak for themselves. We know from the very well respected - though in need of updating - All Ireland Traveller Health Study that Traveller men's life expectancy is 66 years of age. Traveller men's lives are cut short by 15 years compared to the general population, which is a huge and serious gap. The difference for Traveller women is 12 years. Traveller mortality is three and a half times higher than for the general population.
At our last hearing, we heard that there was a recent health study done in east Limerick that bore out these statistics, and some things stand out. One was that only 29 people in the local Traveller population were over 50 years of age and only three of those were over 65 years of age. We have the All Ireland Traveller Health Study, which is still valid but needs to be updated. We have some local statistics and recent statistics which bear out those trends and those disparities. Traveller babies are almost four times more likely to die compared to babies in the general population.
These growth health inequalities facts and figures were clearly spelled out in general and in very personal terms, because when we have had speakers in here, people have spoken about statistics, trends and social determinants of health, but they have been speaking about their brothers, sisters, fathers, babies and their close family. Again, we are reminded it is a small population of about 40,000 people, and when we look at the trends on health and mental health, people are talking about their own. That has come across very strongly in the presentations we have had to date.
We heard from Kathleen Sherlock from the Minceir Whidden Society, Maria Joyce from the National Traveller Women's Forum, Nora Mooney from the Kilmallock Traveller group, and of course the veteran health campaigner, Missie Collins. We also heard from Jim Walsh from the Department of Health who outlined the Government's official response to the health crisis among Travellers. We heard the strong call for the health action plan to be published and for real and ongoing consultative measures of national and local level to established or even re-established. That is why the committee is conducting its second hearing on health today. As members know, we have had three hearings on mental health. This one is on health in general terms.
I welcome everyone. We are joined by Ms Breda O'Donoghue, the director of advocacy, and Ms Liz McGrath, the health team co-ordinator, Traveller Visibility Group; Ms Siobhán McArdle, head of operations, primary care, HSE, Concepta De Brun, HSE social inclusion unit, Ms Deirdre O'Reilly, co-ordinator of a Traveller health unit; and Dr. Mary Favier, president, and Dr. Tony Cox, medical director, the Irish College of General Practitioners.
Before we begin, we have to remind everybody about privilege. In accordance with procedure, I am required to draw witnesses' 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 this committee. They are directed that only evidence connected to the subject matter of these proceedings will be given, and that 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 in such a way as that person might be identifiable. Members are reminded the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside of these Houses or an official either by name or in such a way then as to make him or her identifiable.
I remind everyone to turn off their mobile phones or switch them to flight mode, as they can interfere with the sound and the recording system and affect the television coverage and web streaming.
I advise witnesses that any submission or opening statement made to the joint committee will be published on the website after this meeting so it will be on the record. After the presentations, there will be questions from the members. I call on Ms O'Donoghue to make her opening statement.