Travellers must have "control and direction" over health strategies for the community if they are to have any impact, an Oireachtas committee heard on Tuesday.
Maria Joyce of the National Traveller Women's Forum told the committee on the Traveller community that far from involving Travellers and implementing policies to improve their outcomes the Department of Health behaved like "an absentee landlord" on the issue.
“The studies have been done and the findings are stark and shocking. Yet, there’s been no targeted strategy or action plan put in place to address the health inequalities for Travellers.
“How long more do we have to wait for the Department of Health to meet their own policy commitments to Travellers?”
The committee heard Travellers had a mortality rate 3.5 times that of the settled community, the life expectancy for Traveller men was 61.7 years compared with 76.8 for settled men, and, 70.1 years for Traveller women compared with 81.6.for settled women.
The national Traveller health advisory committee (NTHAC) has not been convened since 2012 while a long-awaited national Traveller health action plan remains unpublished by the HSE.
The lack of a health plan was a "massive gap" agreed Jim Walsh, head of the Traveller health unit in the Department of Health.
“We are frustrated we haven’t seen it . . . We need to ensure in the Department an awareness of Travellers is built into the policies. Involving Travellers is a fundamental principal.”
Chair of the committee, Senator Colette Kelleher said: "We need more than involvement. We are talking about more than that. We need control and direction as well."
Joan Collins, TD (Independents 4 Change) said there should be "nothing about Travellers without Travellers".
“Whatever the plans the Traveller community has to be represented there. People have reached a point now where they are not asking anymore, they are demanding that this be addressed.
“I have never seen a section of society that has had so many strategies, so many studies, so many recommendations and they still are in a situation of huge crisis in their health,” said Ms Collins.
Missie Collins, who started the first Traveller primary care project in the 1990s, said no-one could tell her better than she had experienced herself, about the Travellers' poor health. She had lost her husband – "a young man" and siblings to ill health.
“The determinants of health is discrimination, bad living conditions, unemployment and education. I know that from going out onto the sites and seeing young mothers, old people, struggling. Where I live in group housing and there’s a about seven young men after dying [by suicide] out of 50 houses. It has to change for us. There is no use promising me we’re going to try . . . It has to happen for us. I am angry.”