Councillors could lose vote on Traveller accommodation - Minister says

Damien English tells committee too many local authorities are failing to deliver

Damian English  said it was “absolutely frustrating to see funding not been spent.”Photograph: Alan Betson

Damian English said it was “absolutely frustrating to see funding not been spent.”Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Local councillors may soon lose their power to vote on proposed Traveller accommodation, minister of State at the Department of Housing Damien English has warned.

He told the Oireachtas housing committee on Thursday he was awaiting legal advice from the Attorney General on the issue.

One of the log-jams in the delivery of Traveller housing, identified in a high-level report published in July, has been objections by settled residents to proposed Traveller accommodation during the planning process, and these being reflected in local councillors’ voting records.

All proposed social housing is voted on by councillors as part of the planning process known as ’Part 8’.

Mr English was updating the committee on implementation of a high-level report which examined the effectiveness of mechanisms to deliver Traveller accommodation, He said too many local authorities were failing to deliver.

“I have to see what our powers are legally. I would be of a belief we have to try and work with local authorities to do this increase delivery of Traveller housing]. If we could that would be better but that has been shown to not work so far.”

Among the report’s recommendations are that: “the reserved function of elected members” in councils to approve plans for Traveller housing, and to approve plans to provide council-owned land to housing bodes for Traveller housing, should be suspended for five years and the role taken over by the council’s chief executive.

It also recommends provision of Traveller accommodation be monitored by the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (NTACC). Where local authorities were failing to progress Traveller accommodation, the NTACC should refer them to an independent body to enforce progress.

Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin) was “deeply concerned” that so far 70 per cent of the €13 million allocated to for Traveller accommodation this year remained unspent.

“Fourteen local authorities have spent nothing and four have requested nothing...I cannot understand how any local authority, particularly large local authorities with large Traveller communities could not request money. It’s beyond belief.”

Mr English said it was “absolutely frustrating to see funding not been spent.. That is what we are trying to change here.”

He hoped to publish an action plan on implementing recommendation, in January.

“There has to be some sort of game changer and I agree with you around the planning end of it.” He suggested a phasing in process for local authorities over a year, while Mr O Broin suggested local authorities which proved they could and would spend their allocated Traveller housing budget could have an “early exit” from the planning changes.

Senator Martin Conway (Fine Gael) said ongoing failure to provide adequate Traveller accommodation was the “the single biggest challenge this country” faced.