A “lack of transparency” in how councils are spending Traveller accommodation budgets is highlighted in a hard-hitting series of reports published on Wednesday.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) is publishing 31 reports on foot of “equality reviews” it instigated in 2019, in the face of a consistent underspend by councils, of Traveller accommodation budgets.
Despite lengthy correspondence with most authorities, it says their explanations for how and why budgets are left unspent remain often “not clear” or absent entirely. Most councils are not even accurately counting how many Traveller households live in their areas, it adds.
Between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two-thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down from the Department of Housing and Local Government.
Councils cite structural issues around how funding is allocated and draw-down, objections by settled residents and planning delays.
Mayo County Council, which drew down €2.6 million for "Traveller-specific accommodation" such as halting sites and group housing schemes between 2015 and 2018, appears to have spent this on standard housing for Travellers. In addition, tables provided to explain where more than €63,000 earmarked for Traveller-specific housing went "do not appear to establish what this funding was for, or on what this funding was spent, or if this funding was spent," says the report.
The council was not available to comment on Tuesday night.
In the report on Clare County Council the word "unclear" appears five times, and the phrase "not clear" six times over the 32 pages.
IHREC chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said too many Traveller families continued to live in “appalling conditions”.
IHREC has asked councils to report to it by the end of August, specifying what actions they have taken, or intend to, within specific timeframes. “It will then consider what further action, if any, and including litigation, is necessary,” said a spokesman.
The Irish Traveller Movement said the report showed an “institutionalised and systemic failure by local authorities and a consistent undermining of Traveller’s needs”. Director Bernard Joyce said: “Greater national oversight must be factored into the recommendations made by IHREC and backed up by Ministerial authority.”