SPOTLIGHT ON WEXFORD’S TRAVELLERS BRENDAN KEANE
EXAMINES A REPORT COMMISSIONED BY WEXFORD CO COUNCIL THAT HIGHLIGHTS ISSUES FACING THE LOCAL TRAVELLER COMMUNITY BUT REACHES A POSITIVE CONCLUSION
THE Traveller popula- tion in County Wexford is youthful, with 43.8 per cent under the age of 20, according to a report especially commissioned by Wexford County Council. The Needs Analysis of [the] Traveller community in Co Wexford (NATCW) report was compiled by Dublin based Brian Harvey Social Research (BHSR), in conjunction with the Wexford Traveller Inter-agency Group (TIG).
In the report Wexford County Council comes out favourably in many ways with it being described as a ‘model county’ for a local authority working with Travellers.
The comprehensive report, which based a lot of its statistics on the 2016 census, revealed that the Traveller age profile falls below the national average when it comes to people in their 40s and only .7 per cent of Travellers live to or past the age of 80.
The highest age category within the Co Wexford Traveller community in 2016 was 10 to 19 - which accounted for 22.4 per cent of the county’s entire Traveller population.
According to the report Travellers tend to have larger families with 15.8 per cent of households having six or more family members compared to the national population average of 4.4 per cent.
In Co Wexford there is a higher percentage of married couples with children (51.3 per cent) within the Travelling community than there is within the general settled population (31.1 per cent).
Wexford also has a very stable Traveller population with 96.8 per cent remaining within the county which is a higher figure than within the settled community, however, when it comes to schooling 54 per cent of Wexford’s Travellers have only primary or no formal education while just 16.6 per cent have lower secondary education.
Only 4.1 per cent of Travellers achieved upper secondary education while less than six went on to non-degree third level education.
The proportion of people within the community who have only primary education or none at all is five times higher than the average within the rest of the population.
The rate of Travellers with a third level education was deemed by Mr Harvey as being ‘so low as to be insignificant’. The report also indicated that 17.3 per cent of Traveller children left school either before or by the time they reached 12-years-of-age and 34.6 per cent left before they were 17-years-old.
The general national figure for children leaving school before 15 is 8.7 per cent, however, within the Travelling community the figure is 35.9 per cent.
According to Mr Harvey’s report Travellers are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of professional career options especially when it comes to knowledge or use of the Irish language; only 15 per cent of Travellers in Wexford over the age of 3 can speak Irish while the national population average within the same age group is 39 per cent.
A third of early years services throughout Co Wexford have Traveller children attending with those located in urban and community settings having the most take-up.
Over the last seven years the number of Traveller children attending primary school peaked at 494 but has since dropped back to 441.
However, the number of secondary school students from within the Travelling community rose sharply since the school year 2009-2010 and has increased steadily since.
For the school year 2017-2018, there were 108 Travellers enrolled in ETB schools in Wexford which was an attendance rate of around 70 per cent based on the average number of students attending in general.
A QQI 3 culinary skills course in New Ross had one of the highest numbers of Traveller attendees with 10 young females on the course.
A similar number of female students also attended a wedding arts and crafts course in Wexford while in Bunclody 11 females attended an introduction [to] hair, nails and skin course.
Five females participated in a literacy course run by the Templeshannon Family Parents Group while six males attended a digital literacy and literacy course in Taghmon.
In addition to attendees of the aforementioned Traveller-specific courses a further 30 students from within the Travelling community attended ‘generic’ education courses with adult literacy initiatives receiving the biggest take-up (14) followed by Youthreach (12) while two additional females respectively attended a sport and recreation Level 5 course and a QQI 5 business administration course.
The report revealed that 21.5 per cent of Travellers in Wexford are employed within the category ‘managers and proprietors’.
Travellers also had 7.5 per cent representation within the business and public sector categories and 10.3 per cent in the skilled construction sector.
When it comes to transport the proportion of Travellers with only one car (70.5 per cent) is around the twice the national average while the percentage without any car at all is below the national figure.
According to the report the most common means of travel is by foot (21.3 per cent) while the number of Travellers who use vans for transport is low (4.6 per cent).
Around 50.6 per cent of Travellers said their main mode of transport is as a passenger in a car while just 4.4 per cent said they drive cars.
Only 13.2 per cent of Travellers own a computer which is very low compared to the national population average (68.4 per cent) and only 19.6 per cent have access to broadband.
‘The Traveller community is clearly at a huge disadvantage compared to others in the current information age,’ stated Mr Harvey in the report.
Despite being a relatively young population concerning statistics arose in the report with regard to health and well-being with the overall disability level within the Travelling community, at 19.1 per cent, being higher than the national figure (13.5 per cent).
In the area of disabilities 10.5 per cent of the Travelling population in Wexford have chronic illness while 7.7 per cent have a physical limitation.
Regarding accommodation, 84.8 per cent of Travellers in Co Wexford live in houses while 9.5 per cent are in temporary housing and in 2017 there were 163 families in local authority standard accommodation throughout the county while a further 45 families were in local authority group schemes.
Private, rented accommodation accounted for 132 families while 31 lived in private, local authority assisted homes.
The report also showed that throughout the county 215 families own their homes and 14 live on halting sites; however, 46 families were sharing with relatives, 53 families were living on unauthorised sites and 99 families were without accommodation.
The report indicated a significant shift in patterns of accommodation with far less Travellers now living on the roadside but with a shortage of local authority accommodation which is the preferred option within the Travelling community - a significant number have moved into private rented accommodation.
The report also revealed that 73.7 per cent of Travellers have access to a mains public water supply while 3.3 per cent had no access to water.
The same percentage had no central heating and Mr Harvey suggested there is a high risk of fuel poverty and accordingly a higher winter mortality rate.
The report culminated with a number of special Traveller-relevant needs being identified with difficulties getting served in pubs in Enniscorthy and New Ross highlighted as being areas of concern.
Speeding in Taghmon also needs to be addressed along with a need for bus services to hospitals.
The report also identified a need for the local authority to respond to housing problems quickly and it also highlighted a need for the settled community, generally, to show respect for Travellers.
In that regard specific reference was made to hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and shopkeepers, who close during Traveller funerals.
However, the report also acknowledged there are services in Wexford that meet a range of Traveller needs.
In summary it indicated the Traveller community in Co Wexford is situated in five main locations: New Ross; Enniscorthy; Bunclody; Wexford and Clonroche, with smaller groups in Gorey and Taghmon.
‘The demographic profile shows that it is a youthful population, diminishing rapidly in numbers from age 50, and few living to old age,’ concluded Mr Harvey in the report.
The principal need within the community is access to and take up of education opportunities while mental health awareness and well-being are other major areas of need identified in the report.
It was also noted that ‘there is a base of good practice in Wexford’ in terms of trying to address the needs of Travellers.
In conclusion the report noted: ‘Wexford is well placed to become leader of a community of good practice among local authorities working with Travellers with the TIG the natural leader of such a community, making Wexford a ‘model county’ for a local authority working with Travellers.’