Local authority plans for Traveller housing should no longer be subject to public or councillors’ consultation, according to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Ihrec).
In a submission to the Department of Housing published on Monday, the commission says “consideration” should be given to whether Traveller housing plans instead go directly to An Bord Pleanála thereby removing them from the political arena.
It says the draft Planning and Development Bill 2022, which was published in January, “has the potential to have significant consequences for the Traveller community”.
There is a “deep-rooted relationship between planning and development, and human rights and equality [which] cannot be enjoyed without an accessible, safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment,” says Ihrec.
Throughout, the submission refers to the department’s own Traveller accommodation expert group appointed in 2018 which published its report in 2019 with recommendations to address consistent under-delivery of Traveller accommodation.
“It is clear to us that a number of the recommendations of the expert group have not been addressed adequately or at all in the Bill,” says Ihrec.
Currently, proposed Traveller accommodation is exempted from requiring planning permission and oversight by An Bord Pleanála but is subject to part eight of the planning process, whereby the public, residents’ associations and elected officials can make observations.
“As the expert group’s report sets out in detail, the part eight process and related statutory provisions have the potential to give rise to significant challenges in terms of providing Traveller-specific accommodation,” says Ihrec.
It recommends the Bill be amended to: “Put in place the legislative provisions to provide an alternative and direct route for Traveller-specific accommodation to An Bord Pleanála in line with the processes established for strategic housing development. This provision should be reviewed after a period of five years.”
The commission recommends proposed Traveller developments should not have to be individually notified to the public, explaining their inclusion on local development plans should suffice as notice.
“We recognise the need to ensure a level of public participation and democratic accountability in the planning process and the development of local authority land,” says the commission.
“However, in light of the continued egregious violations of the right to adequate and culturally appropriate housing experienced by the Traveller community, we consider that, with regard to Traveller-specific accommodation only and for a specified period, the public notice procedure should not apply and the process of drawing up and consulting in respect of local authority development plans should be considered sufficient to satisfy the need for public participation and democratic accountability.”
The most recent “Traveller count”, for 2021, found there were 487 families living by the side of the road, usually without running water or secure electricity, and without toilet facilities. This compares with 468 in 2020 and 529 in 2019.