Travellers bring accommodation action to Europe
Irish Travellers are taking a class action over what they say is the State’s failure to provide them with adequate accommodation
“Housing is fundamental,” says Dr Pádraic Kenna of the school of law at NUI Galway. “It is the basis on which other rights can be built. From a Traveller point of view, culturally appropriate housing is fundamental to their wellbeing.”
He says the collective complaint is a new strategy that can work and will put pressure on the Government – particularly the Department of the Environment, which oversees local authorities – to deliver on Traveller accommodation.
The 1998 Housing Act mandates local authorities to provide Traveller-specific accommodation that meets the distinct needs of Traveller families. It provides no sanctions on local authorities that do not, however.
Susan Fay, the legal officer of the Irish Traveller Movement, says it has made efforts over many years to use domestic remedies to challenge the failure of local authorities. “While there has been significant success in this regard, the State has continued to fail to provide Traveller-specific accommodation and has persisted in evicting families without providing suitable alternative accommodation. In the end, this year we and the European Roma Rights Centre concluded there was little alternative but to take this complaint.”
The complaint alleges a policy of assimilation. It says Traveller families are being forced into private rented or local-authority housing as halting-site provision falls steadily. “Co Cavan does not have any halting sites, and Cos Longford, Laois, Louth, Limerick, Clare, Donegal, Wexford, Kildare, Monaghan, Kerry and Sligo have shown decreases of between 28 per cent and 100 per cent” in halting site provision.
Just four local authorities – Donegal, Westmeath, Leitrim and Sligo – have transient sites.
The complaint examines legislation that empowers local authorities to evict anyone entering public land without permission, to remove “temporary dwellings” and remove Travellers from the side of a road, and alleges that these laws discriminate against Traveller families and children and breach sections 16 and 17, and article E, of the European Social Charter.
Kenna points to the high levels of suicide, depression, unemployment and ill-health among Travellers as stemming from entrenched discrimination against Travellers. The apparent refusal of the State to get to grips with the accommodation needs of Travellers is, he says, the official expression of this.
“The difficulty is that what exactly Traveller-specific housing is has never been legally set out. But there are guidelines and it’s not rocket science. Most want to live next to their extended families in halting sites or group housing schemes, with space for their caravan and space to keep a horse or do a bit of outdoor work . . . There seem to be such barriers to delivering that at local level. ”
Mary McCarthy says she and her granddaughter want to live with the rest of the family. “I’d like a kitchen and a proper shower and a place to pull up the caravan. I don’t think it’s a lot, and I don’t think it would cost much.”