Background Travellers are a distinct minority grouping, characterised by a nomadic tradition and shared cultural traditions, who experience poor health and social disadvantage.
Objective To explore in-depth a series of important issues related to the social determinants of health with members of the Irish Traveller community.
Setting This paper presents data from 26 focus groups conducted with the Traveller community in the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI). The data presented are a sub-study of the All-Ireland Traveller Health Study. The focus groups incorporated a geographical spread, a gendered and age-related perspective and compared and contrasted the findings across ROI and NI.
Methodology Participatory methodology ensured that the Traveller community was consulted throughout the research progress and ingress was achieved. The focus groups were recruited via the Traveller Health Network. Peer researchers were co-trained by Pavee Point, the Traveller stakeholder organisation and by university research staff to act as co-facilitators and mediators. Focus groups were transcribed and thematically analysed using grounded theory and the constant comparison method and were validated by inter-raters.
Results The analysis produced rich data which reached saturation. Key thematic issues arose from the data. These non-comprehensively included rapid historical changes in the economic, cultural and policy arenas have impacted on the traditional lived experience of Travellers; nomadism has decreased whilst accommodation problems have increased marginalisation and isolation; a recognised sense of loss of Traveller culture, sense of identity and self esteem but a resilience and determination to seek new forms of meaning; new cultural conditions impacting directly on the quality of life and health chances influencing social and institutional opportunities and barriers; High rates of discrimination perceived in NI and ROI; Irish Traveller community is not a homogenous community; major concerns regarding the increase in drug culture in ROI, although less marked in NI; education as a continuing source of concern during the educational process and beyond; new mass communication technology embraced by some (younger/literate) Travellers as an important source of information, exchange and sociability.
Conclusion The findings echo and reinforce previous evidence but also highlight novel issues. Based on their own account, Travellers continue to face multiple health challenges that impact directly upon their physical and mental health. It is a time of flux and disembodying mechanisms in the broader culture that can generate both positive and negative developments. Travellers have interpreted these experiences as “pushing against a hill”.
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