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The Scandalous Lack Of Traveller Accommodation
Accommodation is one of the most critical issues for the Traveller community and is identified in the 2013-2020 Healthy Ireland Report as the most significant determinant on health.
The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 enshrines in law the requirement of local authorities to provide culturally appropriate accommodation in all its forms, including halting sites, group housing schemes, standard houses and transient accommodation to Travellers.
Local authorities, following a consultation process with locally based Traveller organisations and the Traveller community are required to prepare and adopt a 5 year Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP) to meet the existing and projected accommodation needs of Travellers in their areas.
However the picture is one of absolute failure and neglect.
The report of the task force on the Travelling Community in 1995 recommended that 3,100 units of Traveller specific accommodation be provided, yet two decades later less than 10% of this has been provided despite increased demand.
With the state’s failure to deliver accommodation for Travellers, increasing numbers of Traveller families are finding themselves homeless.
Travellers are not enumerated as homeless unless they present to the homeless agency, nonetheless 549 Traveller families are living on the side of the road or in unofficial or temporary halting sites and 663 Traveller families are estimated to be sharing accommodation, accounting for over 4000 individuals. These Traveller families have been invisible in the government’s supposedly renewed strategy to address homelessness.
Traveller organisations at local and national levels have consistently voiced concerns in relation to the safety of many Traveller families who are forced to endure living in intolerable conditions, with severe overcrowding and often without access to the most basic of services such as water, sanitation or electricity and on sites with poor standards of maintenance and poor management by the local authorities.
In some areas where families have been provided with basic services of water, sanitation and electricity the services are contained within a steel “shed” often a couple of meters away from the families trailer resulting in parents having to take their children across a dark yard often in the heavy rain during the night to use the bathroom.
The horrific fire in the halting site in Carrickmines last weekend where 10 members of the Traveller community tragically lost their lives has heightened fire safety concerns among Traveller families right across the country.
Currently 3,741 Traveller family units of accommodation are required to meet the accommodation needs of Traveller families and yet only €4.3 million was allocated for the capital Traveller Accommodation budget in 2015.
The allocation of a national budget of €4.3 million fails to come close to the targets set out in the TAPs for this year. It undermines the consultation process carried out with the Traveller community and in effect makes it a failed process.
The accommodation budget has been dramatically reduced since 2007 when the budget was €70 million.
However, even when budgets were available some local authorities did not even bother to draw down the funding. During the period 2008-2012 four local authorities failed to draw down €50 million between them and Dublin City Council (DCC) failed to draw down €12.5 million. Yet there is no accountability or sanctions for non-delivery.
The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said in its Second Report on Ireland (23 April 2002) that “the fact that no sanctions are provided for in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 against authorities who do not take measures to provide accommodation for Travellers may weaken its effectiveness.”
The FG/Labour government turns a blind eye to the fact that 15 local authorities across the country did not request or draw down any budget to deliver for Traveller accommodation this year. They are Carlow, Cavan, Donegal, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin, Galway City, Galway County, Laois, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Sligo and Wexford.
In some of these counties Travellers live in horrific conditions while their accommodation needs are completely and blatantly ignored by the local authority.
All the while public representatives from the mainstream parties have openly used anti-Traveller sentiment to block the development of Traveller accommodation. The former Minister for Environment with responsibility for Traveller Accommodation, Phil Hogan wrote to members of his constituency stating they had nothing to be concerned about as Travellers would not be housed in his constituency. Donegal Fianna Fáil Councillor Sean McEniff stated, that Travellers should be “housed away from settled communities, there should be a community of themselves together”, subsequent to this a house which had been allocated to a Traveller family was burned to the ground before the family could move into it.
The rise of anti-Traveller racism among judges has also been alarming. District Court Judge, Seamus Hughes 2012 in a court hearing, referred to a Traveller man “like Neanderthal men abiding by the ‘laws of the jungle”.
By contrast, On the 8th July this year People Before Profit Councillors Brid Smith and Tina McVeigh protested outside Dublin City Hall along with the Irish Traveller Movement and locally-based Traveller organisations from across Dublin at the lack of an accommodation budget and the unsafe living conditions within Labre Park in Dublin where some families have been waiting up to 18 years for permanent accommodation and without water, sanitation or electricity for 14 of those years.
So while Minister Alan Kelly informs the Traveller community that fire services will be asked to lead a concentrated programme of risk management and fire prevention in communities most at risk, Travellers across the country continue to live in fear, with children and adults alike now afraid to sleep easy at night. This is a travesty and indictment of this government.
People before Profit call on this FG/Labour government to address this crisis in Traveller accommodation as an utmost emergency and reinstate the financial resources it had withdrawn from the Traveller accommodation programme without delay in order to provide safe, adequate and culturally appropriate accommodation for Travellers.
We also support the local and national Traveller organisations in their call for the establishment of a National Traveller Accommodation Agency to oversee all aspects of Traveller Accommodation provision and will work to advance this.
Travellers Rights are Human Rights and Travellers Lives Matter.