Politics, social challenges mean only one third of Traveller housing funds spent

Tánaiste says underlying prejudice driven by fear among many in settled community

Tánaiste  Simon Coveney said outcomes are not changing for Travellers. File photograph: Tom Honan

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said outcomes are not changing for Travellers. File photograph: Tom Honan

 

Just one third of the funding allocated over the past decade for Traveller accommodation has been spent because of the “politics and social challenges surrounding the issue”, the Tánaiste has told the Dáil.

Simon Coveney said “there is no lack of effort on the Government’s part but the outcomes are not changing” for Traveller education, employment, life expectancy and housing.

In the decade since 2008 more than €105 million of capital funding, of a total €156 million for Traveller accommodation had been returned unspent to the Department of Housing.

“That represents a collective drawdown of 67 per cent of capital funding by local authorities,” the Tánaiste said. “In other words money that has been made available cannot be spent because of the politics and social challenges surrounding the issue.”

He also said “there is an underlying prejudice, driven by fear, among many of the settled community”.

“The only way we can address it over time is through responsible politics that recognises that as a minority ethnic group in Ireland, Travellers have been marginalised for many years.”

Mr Coveney was responding to Labour leader Brendan Howlin who said that in the wake of the presidential election it was “not enough for us to decry negative stereotyping and hate speech”.

“We have to take seriously the issue of Traveller marginalisation,” he said.

He described as shocking the statistics which showed Traveller unemployment levels at 80 per cent and that just 12 per cent of Travellers complete secondary school.

Mandatory school attendance

Mr Howlin asked if there was a need to have an age limit applied in order that everybody would be required to stay in education until they were 16 years of age.

He also called on the Government to consider specific apprenticeship schemes for young Travellers and put them in place across the State and impose the same mandatory attendance requirement as applied at secondary school.

But he said that all the training in the world would make no difference if businesses were not willing to employ Travellers.

“We have to have an open conversation, not on the margins but at the centre.”

Insisting that there was no lack of Government effort in this area, Mr Coveney said former taoiseach Enda Kenny, in March last year, formally recognised Travellers as an ethnic group. The Government had published its Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy 2017 to 2021 and it contained 149 actions dealing with cultural identity, education, health, anti-discrimination and equality.

“Settled communities are fearful of integration and facilitating housing solutions. As a result local authorities have been unable to deliver the supports needed.”

But “we also need to ensure there is leadership at local government level as well as in national policy to be able to change the narrative that has resulted in so many in the travelling community being desperately disadvantaged through the non-delivery of services they are entitled to”.