Research on the experiences of Gypsy, Romany and Traveller prisoners reported that their numbers ‘[continue] to be underestimated within the custodial estate’ and that ‘the distinct needs of this group are often not recognised and go unsupported’ (HMIP, 2014: 11). This chapter reviews the experience of prison lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic on the Irish Travelling and Roma communities. As traditionally nomadic and significantly marginalized communities, we propose that they may have faced unique challenges in relation to isolation, contacting their families, health inequalities and barriers in accessing culturally appropriate supports.
The Irish Travelling community, often referred to as Travellers or Mincéirí, are a minority ethnic group, distinct from the Irish majority population due to differing cultural and traditional attributes, including strong family structures, unique language (Shelta), staunch religiosity and a history of nomadism (Hayes, 2006; Mulcahy, 2012; Bracken, 2014; 2016; Department of Justice and Equality, 2017; Gavin, 2019). Though indigenous to Ireland, Irish Travellers now reside in a number of countries, including the United States and Canada. However, the largest population of Irish Travellers outside of Ireland is in the United Kingdom (Mac Gabhann, 2011). In the Republic of Ireland, the latest census reported that the Irish Travelling community comprised 0.7 per cent of the total population – approximately 31,000 individuals (Central Statistics Office, 2017a). In the United Kingdom, approximately 63,000 people identified themselves as Gypsy, Traveller or Irish Traveller in the latest census.
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