Councils under pressure to ‘ramp up’ support for Travellers

Oireachtas group on issues affecting Travellers told of need for ‘greater interagency work’

The committee heard that a 50% increase in funding for management and maintenance of halting sites and group housing schemes was approved earlier this year. File photograph: Provision

The committee heard that a 50% increase in funding for management and maintenance of halting sites and group housing schemes was approved earlier this year. File photograph: Provision

 

Local authorities are under “significant pressure” to increase supports to Travellers and “do not have all the resources to meet demand,” an Oireachtas committee has heard.

While it was “not something that should be accepted” that Travellers are at higher risk of homelessness than the rest of the population, and overrepresented in emergency accommodation facilities, local authorities were having difficulty providing adequate supports.

Speaking to the joint committee on key issues affecting the Traveller community, Frank Curran, chief executive of Wicklow County Council, said local authorities have found that when Traveller families become homeless they can be “larger families requiring additional resources and it may be difficult to provide suitable accommodation to suit their needs”.

He said “greater interagency work” was required to help local authorities in dealing with demand.

The Housing Assistance Payment (Hap) was not a solution for Travellers, who are 22 times more likely to be discriminated against in the private rental sector, the chair said.

There was “no doubt” that delivery on Traveller-specific accommodation has been “disappointing in recent years” and this was reflected in the levels of funding drawn down, said Paul Benson, principal officer in the Traveller Accommodation Unit of the Department of Housing.

However, Mr Benson said local authorities made “full use” of the €14.5 million available for Traveller-specific accommodation last year and it was “hoped that this would be repeated” with the €15.5 million budget for 2021.

To ensure Travellers have access to good quality caravan or trailer accommodation the Department of Public Expenditure has rolled out a six-month pilot caravan loan scheme in four local authority areas.

The scheme had the potential to “significantly improve living conditions for Traveller families,” Mr Benson said. The intention was to roll this scheme out nationally in 2022.

Housing schemes

Regulations are to be implemented shortly to provide for a Traveller identifier on the social housing support application form to “allow for evidenced based planning for Traveller accommodation”, Mr Benson said.

Additionally, a 50 per cent increase in funding for the management and maintenance of halting sites and group housing schemes was approved earlier this year, he said.

There were plans for the delivery of new Traveller specific accommodation such as permanent halting sites and group housing schemes to be tracked under Housing for All.

Senator Pauline O’Reilly said there was a need for greater representation and employment of Travellers in public service roles and within the department itself.

“When it comes to these issues it’s important for the people who are affected to be in the room,” she said.

Separately, a national conference on Traveller political participation took place in Athlone on Thursday, at which panellists said Traveller voices were not included on issues including homelessness and that there was a need for greater representation in political roles.

Catherine Joyce, manager of the Blanchardstown Traveller development group, said Travellers “have to register to vote” and “start demanding rights”.

It was suggested there should be a permanent seat for Travellers in the Seanad and seats allocated in the Dáil.