by Dr Ehiaze Ehimen & Aoife Foley
Dr Ehiaze Ehimen is a Senior Research Fellow at Atlantic Technological University, Sligo with research experience in the renewable energy conversion, generation, supply and integration domains. He was lead investigator and author on the “Research on the Energy Efficiency of Mobile Homes for Irish Traveller Communities” report commissioned by the National Travellers MABS.
Aoife Foley is National Education Worker with National Traveller MABS with research experience in sociology and law. She undertook masters and PhD research in DIT and UCD. She has overseen a number of research projects, including “Research on the Energy Efficiency of Mobile Homes for Irish Traveller Communities” report commissioned by the National Travellers MABS.
Energy poverty is a critical issue affecting marginalised communities worldwide, and Irish Travellers are no exception. This report sheds light on the root causes of energy poverty in these communities, analyses the impact it has on their well-being, and proposes solutions to alleviate their energy hardship. By understanding and addressing the unique challenges faced by the Traveller communities, we can work towards a more inclusive and sustainable energy future for all.
Of all ethnic and demographic groups living in the State, Irish Travellers currently experience significant marginalisation resulting in less favourable opportunities to access and participate in education, healthcare, employment and even future energy transition goals. This has resulted in inadequate income and high unemployment levels, as well as financial exclusion which has in turn led to them dwelling in mostly energy inefficient accommodation. This all adds up to create a situation where energy poverty arises,. What energy poverty means is that people cannot afford adequate electricity or gas to light and heat their homes, or to use household appliances including washing machines. It is quantified in Ireland using an ‘expenditure method,’ where a household is considered to be energy poor if it spends more than 10% of their income on energy related costs. Irish Travellers face disproportionate hardships due to energy poverty, perpetuating a cycle of social and economic disadvantage. This piece aims to explore the underlying causes of energy poverty amongst Irish Travellers and the ensuing issues it creates, highlighting the urgent need for tailored policies and interventions.
Understanding the Causes of Energy Poverty among Travellers
2.1 Socioeconomic Inequality:
Travellers have historically faced discrimination and marginalisation, leading to limited access to education, employment, and housing opportunities. Their lower socioeconomic status often means they live in substandard accommodation with poor insulation and heating, contributing to higher energy consumption and costs.
“We have no money, we can’t socialise, we are treated badly everywhere we go, we are living in awful conditions, and no one wants to help us really.” 
“It’s not what people say at times, they are very careful. It’s a feeling that you get when you walk into a shop or a GP. It’s that look that you get that only Travellers would know. The conversation stops. The side looks at each other. Unless you have experienced it you wouldn’t know, but it happens everywhere I go.” 
Racist attitudes and stereotypes are at the heart of why Travellers find it so difficult to find employment and stay in employment and changing such attitudes will involve significant cultural shifts. […], unfortunately, micro-aggressions in the form of workplace conversations that are hostile or negative about Travellers are a common and difficult experience for many. Changing this culture is crucial and will require action by employers and trade unions – for example line managers need to challenge unacceptable behaviour by other employees towards Travellers.” 
2.2 Inadequate Accommodation:
Many Traveller families reside in overcrowded dwellings, substandard accommodation and caravans (mobile homes) without proper access to basic amenities like electricity and running water. The lack of energy-efficient housing options compounds the problem, leading to increased energy expenditure and difficulty in maintaining comfortable living conditions.
“When you have no money, you have no choices. This means we are trapped in accommodation that is very bad for most Travellers. You have to know how that feels, most people don’t, they think they know but they don’t.” 
“[Travellers are] still living in cold and damp conditions. At times children were left sleeping on damp mattresses because of water leaks and condensation. They may have to go out to a cold container to go the toilet in the middle of the night. Their outdoor play areas are either non-existent or could be infested with pests. They have to live in overcrowded conditions. And what’s most distressing is that they know it, they feel it, and they are anxious about it,” 
“I can’t afford to keep the place warm. The second the heater goes off it’s freezing, there’s no double glazing, no insulation. The children go to bed early with extra blankets, it’s the only way to keep them warm […] I sit up with a candle rather than turn on the lights because I can’t afford the electric.” 
2.3 Cultural Barriers:
The cultural practices and historic lifestyle of the Travellers can create barriers to mainstream energy services. Lack of understanding of their unique needs may result in inappropriate policy solutions that fail to address their energy poverty effectively.
Policymakers and energy providers need to broaden their focus to include Traveller-specific accommodation. Travellers live in a variety of types of dwelling, but halting sites, for example, have different requirements to a semi-detached house.
This issue of cultural competence has been about for years. It should become a mandatory thing for services, they are doing a lot of damage out there. I know of those who won’t attend a Traveller area in case they are attacked. How can they offer services if they believe the community is savage?” 
I am an Irish Traveller … I grew up on a site …. and I have always been used to living in caravans with my family. I got married and I couldn’t stay with my parents because there wasn’t enough room to move another trailer. I went to the homeless (authorities), but we weren’t in priority need so we ended up in a squat. (…) I am now living in a flat …. I am grateful for a roof over my head but I really don’t want to live here. I feel like a fraud living in a flat because I feel I am going against my culture. It’s just not me to be in a flat but I have no choice. 
Impact of Energy Poverty on Irish Travellers
3.1 Health and Safety Implications:
A host of energy related health and safety concerns have been observed among Irish Travellers owing to energy poverty. A recent study reported that 66% of Travellers dwelling in mobile homes stated that they had safety concerns related to their homes electricity supply. Other issues experienced included (i) poor air quality due to the use of unvented kerosene heaters, (ii) increased fire risk associated with the heavy reliance on candle use at night, (iii) a high risk of food contamination or poisoning because of intermittent refrigeration, and (iv) dampness and mould arising from inadequate heating systems. Inadequate heating and cooling in Traveller households exacerbate respiratory illnesses and other health issues, particularly affecting children and the elderly. Mental health can also suffer due to the stress and anxiety caused by living in energy-deficient conditions.
3.2 Education and Employment:
Energy poverty can hinder access to education, as children living in energy inefficient homes may face difficulties in concentrating and attending school regularly. Additionally, limited energy access impacts employment opportunities, further entrenching the cycle of poverty.
3.3 Environmental Consequences:
As energy-poor households struggle to afford proper energy sources, they may resort to burning fossil fuels or using inefficient appliances, contributing to environmental degradation and climate change. With a high dependence on diesel generators and fuel heaters to meet their energy needs, some Irish Travellers are highly reliant on fossil fuels, with no clear path for them to be included in the Irish transition to low or no carbon futures.
Issues of poor energy accessibility, brought about by intermittent or no existing mainstream electrical supply further affect traveller communities. Examples of such implications include: a significant shortage in night-time electricity due to the inability to operate generators throughout the night resulting in insufficient energy for space heating and food refrigeration; the inadequate electricity supply necessitates the washing of clothes in laundrettes; and the increased anxiety and stress associated with the unreliable supply of electricity from generators.
3.4 Economic Consequences:
These concerns are further exacerbated by financial burdens associated with the use of current energy generation systems, with most Travellers reported to be spending an average of over €120 per week on fuel and electricity. A major factor for this is the reliance on butane gas cylinders for heating and cooking, which is significantly more expensive on a €/kWh delivered basis than most energy sources. Continued reliance on fossil fuels such as gas cylinders will attract increasing cost as carbon tax is increased.
This significant financial implication has meant many Traveller families being unable to keep their dwellings warm (especially in winter periods) and opting to go without heat for extended periods. This has a significant impact on their health and especially on the health of vulnerable members of the community including children and elderly people.
Initiatives to Tackle Energy Poverty in Traveller Communities
4.1 Energy Efficiency Upgrades:
Implementing energy efficiency measures such as insulation, draught-proofing, and low-energy appliances in the homes of Irish Travellers can significantly reduce energy costs and improve living conditions. These changes could enable Travellers to live in homes that are adequately heated and insulated with access to cooking facilities that are affordable and safe to utilise, which would have a positive impact on their health and wellbeing.
4.2 Community Engagement:
Involving Travellers in the design and implementation of energy initiatives is crucial. Culturally sensitive programmes that address their unique needs and values will foster better participation and outcomes. The particular requirements of this group must come from Travellers themselves, as they are best informed about their own experiences and the particular energy needs of their homes.
4.3 Financial Assistance:
Providing targeted financial supports, grants, and subsidies to energy-poor households can alleviate the burden of high energy costs and promote energy access. Funding could be made available for short-term purposes, including the payment of electricity bills and also for long-term investments like the retrofitting of homes to make them more energy efficient and therefore less costly to run.
4.4 Education and Awareness:
Conducting awareness campaigns on energy conservation, sustainable practices, and energy-efficient technologies will empower Travellers to make informed choices and adopt energy-saving habits. Ensuring that these campaigns are delivered by members of the Traveller community or advocates for them would foster a sense of trust and promote the sharing of information among the community itself.
Policy and Legislative Changes
5.1 Inclusive Energy Policy:
The government should develop energy policies that consider the specific challenges faced by Travellers, ensuring they are not left behind in the transition to cleaner and more affordable energy sources. This is more important now than ever, as we move towards a low-carbon society in our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change.
5.2 Housing Reform: Addressing the housing crisis and providing culturally appropriate, energy-efficient accommodation options will significantly impact the energy poverty faced by Travellers. There is an urgent need for affordable, energy-efficient housing on a large scale to provide homes for everyone, especially people who are currently homeless, including the many Travellers who find themselves in emergency accommodation.
5.3 Equal Access to Services: Ensuring equitable access to energy services for all citizens, regardless of their background, is vital in reducing energy poverty. Travellers must have the information and the access to affordable energy sources, to enable them to be healthy and live lives of dignity. Excluding this group from the funding and services which everyone in the settled community has access to is a breach of their human rights and an injustice which must be rectified.
Energy poverty is a complex issue which affects the lives of Irish Travellers in a myriad of ways, from negatively affecting their health to impeding their ability to participate in society. This issue demands tailored solutions for the unique challenges faced by Irish Travellers starting with acknowledging the root causes and understanding the far-reaching implications of energy poverty, our policy-makers and energy providers can work towards building a more inclusive and sustainable energy future. Through collaborative efforts which include and empower Travellers , including community engagement, targeted policies, and investments in energy efficiency, we can work with Travellers to create a more equitable and thriving society in which everyone has adequate access to energy.