Traveller feuds result in ‘far-reaching’ consequences for families, report finds

Feuding has led to mental health difficulties, homelessness, discrimination, injury and death, study warns

Traveller feuding is engaged in by a “minority” of the community with “far-reaching” negative consequences for the majority, a report on the issue has found.

These include mental health difficulties, homelessness, discrimination, injury and “in some instances” death, according to the study from the Traveller Counselling Service, Exchange House and the Traveller Mediation Service.

Social media is fuelling violence between some families, exacerbating the issue which has its root causes in the poverty, marginalisation and powerlessness, it says.

The report, The Impact of Traveller Interfamily Conflict on Individuals and Families, draws on research conducted in April and May 2023 with four focus groups as well as 38 in-depth interviews, including with 32 Travellers with direct experience or insight into violent feuding. Other interviewees included gardaí and members of Traveller organisations.

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The project arose following a 2019 conference on the issue and was “co-created by the three Traveller organisations and the ‘settled’ researcher [Dr Sarah Sartori, a researcher specialising in higher education at southeast Technological University]“.

Publication of the report on Tuesday will coincide with a conference, Travellers Transforming Conflict, at Dublin Castle on Tuesday to be addressed by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman.

The report says feuding is “historically linked to the culture of bare-knuckle fighting by which a male Irish Traveller upheld his family’s honour” but has evolved in recent years “to typically involve weapons, ramming of vehicles, destruction of property, that includes the setting of sites and homes on fire, and can result in loss of life, severe mental-health difficulties, and families forced to leave their homes”.

It adds: “In the absence of an alternative system of ‘conflict resolution’ because of well-founded mistrust of the police and of the criminal justice system, such oppositions are misunderstood by some in the community as an element of Traveller culture”.

“Only a minority of Travellers engage in inter-family violence, yet it . . . negatively impacts on virtually all sections of the Traveller community . . . Google ‘Traveller feud’ and you will instantly be brought to a spate of news articles, images and TikTok videos or ‘callouts’ provoking a member of a ‘rival’ family into a fight.”

It continues: “There is increasing recognition within the Traveller community that inter-family violent conflict is leading to widespread intergenerational trauma, seriously damaging mental health and undermining progress in . . . education and accommodation.”

Among the report’s nine recommendations are a campaign to bring “attitudinal change within the Traveller community” including “frank conversation within . . . about how to address the violence”. It calls for “tightening of social media . . . in relation to Traveller interfamily violence”; greater resources for culturally appropriate trauma-informed interventions for individuals and families; increased resources for Traveller mediation and counselling services, and, a targeted strategy to tackle racism against Travellers.

Among the factors behind the violence are the marginalisation and oppression of the community which are “internalised” leading some to oppress members of their own community – a phenomenon “reported to be common in Indigenous peoples the world over”, the report says.

“Communities with high levels of violence are also characterised by high levels of poverty, lack of adequate public services and educational opportunities, poorer health outcomes, asset and income inequality.”

It says: “Traveller interfamily conflict, is explicitly linked to poverty and lack of opportunity available to Travellers, and Government and public sector bodies have an obligation to tackle and reduce the high levels of prejudice and discrimination faced by Travellers in Ireland.”

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