The National Traveller Mental Health Network (NTMHN) has been awarded this year's Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award in recognition of its work and advocacy in the area of mental health of the Travelling Community.
The Bar of Ireland said the award acknowledged the work of volunteers and social workers who are seeking to secure the fundamental rights of the Traveller Community.
The NTMHN, which has 26 representatives nationwide, was officially launched in 2019.
As well as engaging in policy progression, it highlights, discusses and addresses local, regional, and national Traveller mental health issues.
The Bar of Ireland Chairperson Sara Phelan SC said the State's recognition of Travellers as an official ethnic minority in 2017 had practical and symbolic significance.
"However, the day-to-day issues of exclusion and marginalisation persist, and I can certainly say, counting Travellers amongst my clients, that these are very real issues for Travellers in Ireland today," she said.
According to research, risk of suicide is six times higher for Travellers than the general population, with 82% of the community having been directly affected. A recent report by the University of Limerick found that attitudes and trust in the criminal justice system are significantly lower in the Travelling Community.
Ms Phelan said the mental health burden carried by Travellers – related to, for example, housing, education, health – has been courageously championed by The National Traveller Mental Health Network.
"How the law can be applied as an agent of change can be the focus of our work with the Network over the year ahead. Our constitution, and our international legal obligations, through the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights recognises the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health," she said.
Mags Casey, who accepted the award on behalf of the National Traveller Mental Health Network described it as an "historic day" which offered the Network with recognition, hope and courage to continue its work.
"Too many people are dying from suicide in our community. We can no longer face the prospect of burying more and more of our loved ones through suicide," she said.
"None of us should have to live with this reality - with the fact that the suicide rate amongst one section of our population is seven times higher, this is an ongoing shame within Irish society.
"We will be your voice from the grave - we will not give up."
Chair of the Bar of Ireland's Human Rights Committee Aoife O'Leary BL acknowledged the campaigning work of The National Traveller Mental Health Network, their commitment to promoting the welfare of members of the Traveller Community, and their contribution to the development of policy and law in this important area were noted by the committee.
"The wider debate on diversity and inclusion in society must ensure no one is left behind. It is astounding to see the frequency with which instances of discrimination against members of the Traveller Community, in terms of breaches of the Equal Status Act, arises before the Workplace Relations Commission," she said.
"As a profession of advocates, we have an opportunity to draw attention to key issues impacting on the mental welfare of the Travelling Community and contribute to the solutions."
Previous winners of the Bar of Ireland Human Rights Award include MASI – Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (2021); Dr. Mike Ryan, World Health Organisation (2020); Tomáš Reichental (2019); Orla Tinsley (2018); Catherine Corless (2017) and The Irish Naval Service (2016).