In January 2022, Birmingham University published findings of an online survey of 1667 adult people, conducted between 20-21st July 2021 in conjunction with YouGov (‘Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain’). The authors observed that Gypsy and Irish Travellers were viewed negatively by 44.6% of respondents; Muslims were the next group to be viewed negatively (25.9%).
A large number of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people have an active Christian faith. The origins of belief for Gypsy-Roma reach back into early periods of migration from an area near present day Bangladesh. Travelling across Europe, many encountered and gradually adopted Christian teaching and traditions, reaching England in the 1600s.
Irish Travellers have a different, and ancient, history. Again, many have a Christian faith.
The statistics shown in this research are, sadly, not surprising news to the communities and demonstrate that there is much more work needed to raise awareness of hate and prejudice. Churches clearly have a vital role to play in addressing this need.
‘Voices Unheard’: A Study of Irish Travellers in Prison. June 2011, Irish Chaplaincy in Britain.
This report is by Irish Chaplaincy, a charity that aims to provide help and support to vulnerable and isolated Irish people in Britain, including Irish Gypsies and Travellers.
It is well evidenced that Gypsy and Traveller peoples are over-represented in the prison population of our country. This report provided an in-depth look at some of the particular issues faced by Irish Gypsies and Travellers within the criminal justice system and made some clear recommendations.
Visiting Irish Gypsies and Travellers in prison, and providing support and education in the criminal justice system, is a core part of the work of Irish Chaplaincy. The charity is well placed to draw attention to the needs of Gypsies and Travellers in prison.
Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches would like to celebrate where good practice has been introduced. We are aware, for example, of the development of Gypsy and Traveller Forums in several prisons. Many people from these communities have a deep spirituality and hence a chaplain can provide a trusted listening ear. The provision of adequate chaplaincy services in prisons is especially important given the high level of mental health problems experienced by men and women from Gypsy-Traveller communities highlighted in the report.
The report explains very well how, and why, separation from family and community has a particularly detrimental effect on members of the communities. It highlighted the difficulties some people, particularly those not living on a settled site, or able to use another form of permanent address, had with using the system for booking visits. This report acknowledged that problems with reading and writing make it hard to engage effectively in necessary bureaucracy or to take full advantage of education and rehabilitation programmes.
This research drew attention to policies which sometimes prevent Gypsies and Travellers from engaging in family and cultural activity whilst in prison; for example, difficulties attending funerals or living on a Gypsy-Traveller site after release.
This report, and especially its recommendations, would provide a good template for an audit. As Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Friendly Churches, we commend this report and encourage people of influence within the criminal justice system to review the recommendations and consider how many have been implemented since the report was produced 2011; to promote and share good practice; and to plan for how further positive changes may be undertaken.
Details for Irish Chaplaincy website Irish Travellers - Irish Chaplaincy /Voices-Unheard-June-2011_SMALL.pdf (irishchaplaincy.org.uk)