Analysis: Councils must do more for Travellers after fire

Local politicians have fought hard to to oppose the provision of Traveller homes

Fire officers at the scene of the tragedy at the halting site at Glenamuck road , Carrickmines, Co. Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

Fire officers at the scene of the tragedy at the halting site at Glenamuck road , Carrickmines, Co. Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, in whose area 10 Travellers lost their lives on overcrowded halting site at the weekend, is one of 15 local authorities that drew down no funding for Traveller accommodation this year.

Some €4.3 million was provided by the Department of the Environment to the 31 local authorities for Traveller accommodation this year, down from €70 million in 2008. Even in straitened economic times, this 93 per cent collapse in funding raises questions about the commitment of central Government to Traveller accommodation.

That almost half the local authorities have either not sought or have been refused funding raises further questions about how serious local authorities are about the housing crisis among Travellers.

The deaths in Carrickmines at the weekend are evidence of just how dangerous the living conditions of thousands of our Traveller citizens are.

Some 29 people were sleeping in cabins and caravans on the “temporary” halting site on Friday night. The site, on Glenamuck Road, had three bays, but up to six families had been living there for seven years, in three portacabins and two caravans.

One of the three portacabins was added earlier this year, by the council, at the request of one of the families who wanted to accommodate extended family. A spokesman said the council extended the site at this time and also provided additional facilities and services for this extra unit.

Emergency accommodation

There are hundreds more like them. Of the 10,226 Traveller families throughout the State, 445 are on “unauthorised sites”, ie by the side of the road, without anything but the most basic facilities.

Some 104 families are on basic services sites, such as that on Glenamuck Road. A further 223 are sharing halting-site bays with other families; 37 are sharing basic site bays with families.

In addition, 727 families are sharing houses with families. A total of 1,536 families are in overcrowded or unsafe conditions.

This writer has visited many “temporary” Traveller sites across the State over the past 15 years. Many are grossly overcrowded, sometimes with less than a foot between vans and portacabins as families “double up”, unable to find accommodation elsewhere.

On some sites, only one cold tap services eight or nine families; on another, 20 people share one toilet. Some sites are infested with rats, with children prone to infection, skin rashes and respiratory conditions.

No lighting

These sites are where some local authorities – but more particularly too many local politicians – propose children be reared, and fight tooth-and-nail to oppose the provision of appropriate Traveller accommodation.

In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fine Gael councillor Josepha Madigan stood in the local elections last year vowing to oppose proposed Traveller accommodation in Mount Anville, describing it as “a dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”.

According to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, 36 Traveller families in its area are without permanent accommodation. Six “are in temporary sites provided by the council at three locations”, one of which was the Glenamuck Road site. Some 14 families are “living on a continuous basis in homeless accommodation, one is on an unauthorised site and 10 are in rented accommodation”.

Permanent halting site

Given that it has drawn down no funds for Traveller accommodation this year, it is doubtful a permanent site will be provided even in the medium term.

Two years ago, after it emerged local authorities had, since 2006, failed to spend €50 million they had been allocated by the Department of the Environment for Traveller accommodation, then housing minister Jan O’Sullivan said she would demand “midterm” statements from every local authority on their delivery of Traveller accommodation. The 31 local authorities’ Traveller Accommodation Programmes run from 2014-2018.

One hopes the current Minister with responsibility for Traveller housing, Paudie Coffey, will seek these statements in 2016 and demand the authorities do better by these 1,536 families.

Definitions of Traveller sites:

Some 581 families live on permanent halting sites. A permanent site, which will have gone through the full planning process, will have about five to 10 halting site bays. Each bay will generally have its own small day-house with bathroom and washing facilities. It may have a small kitchen also.

The tenants will provide their own sleeping accommodation, ie a trailer or caravan. They will pay a differential rent to the local authority.

Some 549 families live on temporary or unauthorised sites. These will be far more basic, with variable levels of facilities, such as bathrooms or washing facilities. There are less likely to be discernible bays, rather a site on to which families in trailers or caravans may park. Supposedly “temporary” sites have been in place for up to 20 years.

Fifteen local authorities did not draw down funding for Traveller accommodation this year. They are: Carlow, Cavan, Donegal, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin , Galway City, Galway County, Laois, Leitrim, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Sligo and Wexford.