Councils could face sanctions over Traveller accommodation budgets

Government-appointed expert group proposes financial penalty for underspending

The St Margaret’s Traveller housing scheme in Ballymun, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

The St Margaret’s Traveller housing scheme in Ballymun, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Local authorities failing to spend their Traveller accommodation budgets could face financial sanctions, under proposals being examined by Government-appointed expert group.

The Oireachtas Committee on Housing heard suggestions on Tuesday that councils not delivering Traveller accommodation should face, for example, having their roads budget cut “to focus elected representatives’ minds”.

The committee heard from two members of the three-person expert committee, established earlier this year by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Damien English, to review the operation of the 1998 Traveller Accommodation Act and local authorities’ delivery of Traveller accommodation.

Prof Michelle Norris and David Joyce said they would “definitely” examine the idea of sanctions.

In the last year, nine local authorities have not spent a cent of their allocations for Traveller accommodation, said Prof Norris. These were Laois, Mayo, Monaghan, Westmeath, Longford, Wexford, Kildare, Galway and South Dublin county councils.

“The issue . . . is solvable given the small size of the Traveller population,” said Prof Norris. “Also the policy nationally, and funding, has improved and been honed a lot over the past 20 years. The issue is with the implementation of policy and particularly the differential between local authorities in implementation.”

Just four of the 11-member committee attended for the discussion on Traveller accommodation, including the chair Maria Bailey (Fine Gael), Senator Colette Kelleher (Independent) and Deputy Pat Casey (Fianna Fáil).

‘Failed’ process

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said the consultative process for delivering Traveller accommodation had “clearly failed” in many councils.

“Should we be thinking about sanctions for local authorities in other areas of their expenditure if they fail to spend Traveller accommodation budgets and meet statutory requirements? I think if a local authority knew, for example, that its roads budget would be withheld if it didn’t spend its Traveller budget that might focus the minds of elected representatives to do what they are legally required to do.”

Deputy Casey supported the possibility of removing the function of Traveller accommodation delivery from councils, saying: “If local democracy isn’t working then we do have to look at removing it from local democracy, sadly . . . If they’re not willing to make the hard decisions then those decisions have to be made somewhere else, at a national level.”

Deputy Bailey said she would be “loath” to impose sanctions on local authorities or to take the issue out of their hands. “It’s about bringing people with us, not leaving anyone behind, from all communities. We do that through clear communication and leadership. That leadership has to come from the local authority. They are best placed to know the demographics, know the need and the want in their community.”

Prof Norris, however, said that while she acknowledged the need for balance between communities’ needs and wants, in those local authorities where Traveller accommodation was not being delivered “there is no doubt there has to be some intervention at this stage”.

“If we continue with the situation where there is such underdelivery and such uneven delivery the problem will never be resolved . . . Solutions like sanctions are something we will definitely be examining.”

They have been asked to deliver their report by next May.