‘We shouldn’t have to wait for a tragedy to happen’

AGM Pics TC 2The Boards and Voluntary Agencies Branch were pleased to welcome, Guest Speaker at this year’s AGM, Tessa Collins, from Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre.

Tessa described how, through social justice, solidarity and human rights, Pavee Point are working to improve the quality of life and living circumstances of Irish Travellers and Roma. Targeting areas like health, education and employment they tackle the causes of exclusion and marginalisation. With suicide rates in the Traveller community up to six times higher than the national average, this work is of vital importance. Tessa also explained how many members of the Traveller community (those with disabilities, for instance) often experience multiple layers of discrimination.

As with any work with marginalised groups of people, building relationships based on trust and mutual respect is key to engaging and supporting them effectively. It is not only trust in their service that the organisation seeks to boost, but also the building of confidence to engage with other services as well. Media controversies and previous experiences with state institutions can have a huge impact. Traveller women and men are often afraid to use the services that are available to them. These barriers take time and a lot of hard work to break down.

Listening to Tessa speak it was clear that her experiences have much in common with those of other members of the BVA across the Community and Voluntary sector. The importance of working confidentially and ethically is central to what she does. As with many other areas of the sector, Traveller support organisations have also been badly hit by funding cuts during the years of fiscal crisis.

Commenting on the upsurge in media and political interest in Traveller issues following the Carrickmines blaze that left 10 dead last year, Tessa said that ‘We shouldn’t have to wait for a tragedy to happen’. This sad fact struck a chord with the audience at the AGM, especially those working in areas that also have to wait until the worst happens before the social problems faced by their service-users gain much media attention.

While problems faced by the Traveller community are central to the work of Pavee Point, Tessa was also very keen to point out many of the positive aspects of Traveller culture. Traveller Pride week takes place each June and support is always welcome for the events that are held.