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The contemporary complexities of Irish Traveller navigation of drug risk environments.

van Hout, MC The contemporary complexities of Irish Traveller navigation of drug risk environments. In: McGregor, S and Thom, B, (eds.) Alcohol and Drugs: Framing Dangerous Classes and Dangerous Spaces. Historical and cross-cultural perspectives. Routledge. (Accepted)

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Abstract

The Irish Traveller community are identified ‘as an ethnic minority people with a shared history, language, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life and value system on the island of Ireland’ and who are recorded in Irish history since the twelfth century. The most recent Irish census (2011) recorded 29,573 Travellers in Ireland, representing 0.6% of the total Irish population. As of the 1st of March 2017, Travellers are recognised by the Irish government as a distinct ethnic group within the fabric of Irish society.
Historically however, Irish Traveller existence as ‘dangerous class’ within Irish society has been fraught with a multiplicity of socio-economic disadvantage, public discriminatory attitudes and hostility. Their limited interaction with settled people and inner community boundaries contributed to public prejudice of the ‘itinerant way of life’ and the labelling of Travellers as criminals. Since the 1950’s, strict assimilation policies by the Irish government (boulder policies, enforced group housing) has contributed to fragmentation and erosion of Traveller cultural identity, values, norms and traditions over time.
Twenty years ago, by virtue of their contested social and physical space, and separation from settled society, illicit drug use and addiction was not an issue within Traveller communities in Ireland. Their religious and patriarchal cultural values traditionally protected Travellers from self-medication or intoxication behaviours and sanctioned those who crossed the line. Since then, social and cultural upheaval through enforced dislocation of Traveller families have heightened Traveller vulnerability to poor mental and physical health outcomes, and a rise in substance abuse and addiction amongst Travellers has been observed. At the time of writing, alcohol, illicit and prescribed opiates, benzodiazepines, cocaine and new psychoactive substances are increasingly used (and abused) by both Traveller men and women of all ages in Ireland.
Traveller families who traditionally protected their members from harms such as drug abuse, are now increasingly exposed to the normative contexts of drug use in drug risk environments within their own insular communities in group housing, when incarcerated, and at schools. ’Dangerous spaces’ encountered by Travellers in contemporary Ireland now consist of drug (availability, use and dealing) risk environments, as their families, communities and networks are exposed to illicit drug availability, contact with drug trafficking gangs, increasingly disenfranchised male youth, and with their own members seeking alternative routes for income generation in drug dealing and drug related crimes.
Whilst Travellers are increasingly entrepreneurial and able to navigate ‘dangerous spaces’ in the context of crime, they remain ill-equipped to deal with the profound harms caused by drug abuse, often confounded by their life and social circumstances. Complexities in dealing with the impact of drug related crime and addiction within Traveller families are underpinned by shame, stigma and attempts to self-manage (home detoxification, faith healing, sanctioning with domestic violence and outcasting of users and addicts) from within. This contributes to the renewed framing of the Traveller community as ‘dangerous class’ operating within contemporary criminal environments as ‘dangerous spaces’. Drug and public health policies are warranted to consider this shift in position.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Divisions: Public Health Institute
Publisher: Routledge
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2019 09:50
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2019 09:50
Editors: McGregor, S and Thom, B
URI: http://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/9913

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