Councils should be stripped of Traveller housing provision, committee told

State failures underpinned by ‘institutional racism’, Traveller activist claims

Maria Joyce of the National Travellers Womens’ Forum said the State’s failures in the context of Travellers and accommodation were “underpinned by institutional racism”. Photograph: Alan Betson

Maria Joyce of the National Travellers Womens’ Forum said the State’s failures in the context of Travellers and accommodation were “underpinned by institutional racism”. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The provision of Traveller accommodation should be removed from local authorities and taken on by an independent agency, either new or already existing, an Oireachtas committee heard on Tuesday.

Institutional racism was forcing Traveller children to live in unsafe, overcrowded and squalid conditions, TDs and senators were told.

Rosemarie Maughan, accommodation officer of the Irish Traveller Movement, said so far this year “just €1.7 million has been drawn down” of the national Traveller accommodation capital budget. Between 2008 and 2019 more than €72 million was unspent by local authorities, she told the Committee on Key Issues Affecting the Traveller community.

Pavee Point co-director Martin Collins said local authorities were “inherently unable and incapable of providing Travellers with their basic accommodation needs”. Elected representatives played “the race card” and their power over the issue needed to be “removed”.

“Local authorities have failed and failed miserably. We need to establish a new structure,” he said. He quoted former European Commission president Jean-Claude Junker, whom he said told a conference on Roma and Traveller issues: “We know what needs to be done but we just don’t know how to get re-elected when we do it.”

It was “immoral”, said Mr Collins, that local authorities continued to evict Traveller families, who had nowhere else to go, from public sites “where those same local authorities have failed to implement their own Traveller accommodation programmes”.

‘Institutional racism’

Maria Joyce, co-ordinator of the National Traveller Women’s Forum, referring to last week’s report from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office, detailing children’s dreadful living conditions at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city, said it was far from an isolated case.

“The State too long knows its failures in the context of Travellers and accommodation . . . It is underpinned by institutional racism,” she said.

Fianna Fáil TD Eamon Ó Cuív said local-authority chief executives were not using their emergency powers to over-ride elected councillors voting down Traveller accommodation.

“So not only are the councillors not fulfilling their duty, thumbing their noses at the Oireachtas . . . at their moral obligation, so are the CEOs.” He said that as a politician who believed in the democratic process he was loath to take give powers to unelected bodies.

“But in this case it is the politicians have undermined democracy because they have not fulfilled their duties legally or practically . . . It’s time for us . . . to be very forceful in what we want . . . in actually proposing firm action that will actually make it happen, that will ensure it happens whether that’s the Housing Agency, An Bord Pleanála or whatever mechanism, it has to happen.”

Sinn Féin TD Dessie Ellis said local authorities failing to provide sufficient Traveller accommodation should be penalised. He cited a family of 15 on a site in his constituency (Dublin North West) with no water. “Nearly every person in that site got Covid,” he said. He had been lobbying every official he could to try to get the family a water supply but had been unsuccessful. “It’s unacceptable and it has to stop,” he said.