Traveller accommodation crisis
Every local authority has to plan its Traveller housing for the next five years. But the programmes’ recent history suggests that few of the proposals will be implemented
Asking for change: Geraldine McDonnell with her granddaughter Kelly. Photograph: Alan Betson
In 1999, a year after the passage of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, which required every local authority to address the accommodation needs of its “indigenous” Travellers, 1,203 Traveller families were living by the sides of roads, without running water, electricity, toilets or refuse collection. It was a crisis that the 1998 Act had promised to solve for a relatively small number of citizens.
Today, according to the Department of the Environment, just 330 families live on such “unauthorised sites”. It looks like a success, but it’s not the full picture. The numbers at the right of this article show how many Travellers the department says live in other types of accommodation. Among these there are 952 families in overcrowded, inadequate or other “crisis” accommodation, according to Colette Spears of the Irish Traveller Movement. Add the 330 by the sides of roads and that’s 1,282 inappropriately housed Traveller families, she says.
“There is a crisis like never before, and it is getting worse, because Travellers are giving up hope that local authorities are ever going to provide Traveller accommodation. And they are losing hope that anyone in central Government cares.”
She adds that the large numbers now in standard rented accommodation are not all there by choice, as local authorities would claim. A significant number had given up on getting Traveller-specific accommodation and, particularly if they had young children, felt they had no other option if they wanted to escape the squalor of unofficial sites.
On Monday, Travellers from across the State will converge outside Fingal County Council’s offices in Blanchardstown, in northwest Dublin, to protest at what they describe as the “total failure of the Traveller accommodation strategy”. They will highlight what they say is the typical case of the McDonnell family (below), on Dunsink Lane, near a former dump in Finglas, who remain in appalling conditions a decade and a half after first seeking Traveller-specific accommodation.
Every local authority is, at the moment, fulfilling its obligation to draw up a new traveller-accommodation programme. Draft 2014-18 plans have been put out for public consultation, and all must be formally adopted by the councils by April 30th.
But some of those drafts indicate little progress. Dublin City Council, for example, said in its 2009-13 programme that it would build 118 new units of Traveller-specific accommodation. It built one. Fingal County Council in its 2009-13 programme said that it would provide between 79 and 91 new units. It provided 30.
There was local concern this week that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s draft programme earmarks a picturesque site on Mount Anville Road for Traveller housing. Fearful residents may be reassured to know that the site was also earmarked in the last programme for a group-housing scheme, and in the one before that.
Local authorities, explaining the lack of progress, cite the downturn. Some, including Dublin City Council, say: “Regrettably, some schemes did not advance because of on-site antisocial behaviour and criminality.” Some have said that residents’ opposition has prevented plans.
Chris Flood, the former Fianna Fáil minister of state who chaired the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee from 2002 to 2005, and who remains an advocate of Traveller rights, rejects such explanations.
“Cost clearly has not been an issue,” he says. “Over €30 million has been made available in some of the years of current programmes. On a number of years the money made available by the department was not even being drawn down.”