Some 5,584 Travellers live in overcrowded conditions

The system of providing adequate and safe accommodation is clearly not working

Caitlin and Thomas McCarthy at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Michael MacSweeney/Provision

Caitlin and Thomas McCarthy at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Michael MacSweeney/Provision

 

A year after 10 people died in a fire at an unofficial Traveller site in Carrickmines, Dublin, the number of Traveller families living in such conditions has increased.

After 18 years of current policy on Traveller accommodation, it is time to “admit failure”, say Traveller groups.

According to the latest figures from the Department of Housing, 534 Traveller families are living by the side of the road, often without running water, toilets or electricity – an increase of 89 families since the end of 2014.

The numbers sharing housing or “doubling up” – as families move their caravans beside other family caravans or houses –because they can find nowhere else to live, also increased from 727 in 2014 to 862 last year.

In all, 1,396 families – 5,584 Traveller adults and children – are living in overcrowded, frequently unsafe, accommodation.

The Irish Traveller Movement and Pavee Point continue to call for the establishment of a National Traveller Accommodation Agency to take over responsibility for Traveller housing provision from local authorities.

Violating rights

“Between 2009 and 2013 [the life-span of the most recent Traveller Accommodation Programmes, which are drawn up by local authorities] only nine out of 34 councils fulfilled their Traveller accommodation targets,” said an ITM spokeswoman.

In May, the European Committee of Social Rights – part of the Council of Europe – found against Ireland, saying the Government was violating Travellers’ rights under the European Social Charter.

It found unanimously against the State on four grounds, including inadequate provision of Traveller accommodation, inadequate safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction, and that Traveller sites are in an inadequate condition.

More recently, a national fire safety audit of Traveller accommodation by the National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management, found 62 per cent of Traveller accommodation had unsafe electrical connections; 81 per cent did not have working smoke alarms; 57 per cent of units were placed too close to others; 86 per cent didn’t have fire-blankets and 31 per cent of sites had inadequate access for emergency vehicles.

Appalling conditions

Groups working with Traveller families living in appalling conditions, such as those living by the side of the road in Dundalk and at the overcrowded Spring Lane site in Cork, describe a lack of engagement with them by local authorities.

Local authorities, in turn, speak of difficulties progressing Traveller accommodation projects, for reasons which include settled residents’ and public representatives’ objections.

Clearly, something isn’t working.

Without adequate housing, the Traveller community cannot begin to fully address its many difficult issues.

A report from the Housing Agency on the efficacy of local authorities’ Traveller Accommodation Programmes since 2000, due early next year, may provide some answers.

In all, there are 9,997 Traveller families in the State.