Nearly one-fifth of Travellers ‘lack proper accommodation’

Pavee Point official tells Oireachtas committee of 90% cut in housing budget over five years

The Glenamuck halting site where 10 people died in a fire in  October 2015. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

The Glenamuck halting site where 10 people died in a fire in October 2015. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

About 5,500 Travellers in the State are in need of proper accommodation, representing nearly one in five people in the Traveller community, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Traveller representatives appeared before the Committee on Housing and Homelessness on Thursday.

The organisation Pavee Point said a national fire safety audit of Traveller accommodation had been established following the tragic fire on a site in Carrickmines last year, which killed 10 people.

“Even though we received an assurance that the audits would not result in forced evictions, a number of evictions have taken place throughout the country, leaving families homeless or forcing people to stay at homes and bays of extended family members.”

Ronnie Fay, co-director of Pavee Point, said the “lack of prioritisation and political will” on the issue were illustrated in cuts to the Traveller accommodation budget.

“Between 2008 and 2013, the Traveller accommodation budget was cut from €40 million to €4 million – a staggering 90 per cent.

“Even more shockingly, there was an underspending of 36 per cent of the allocated Traveller accommodation budgets by local authorities.”

Government statistics obscured the “reality of homelessness” and accommodation conditions within the community.

The organisation said the term “sharing” of houses and halting sites was “a euphemism for Travellers living in chronic overcrowding”.

Some 361 Traveller families lived on “unauthorised” sites, 188 families lived in basic service bays, 182 families shared permanent halting sites and 17 families shared basic service bays or transient halting sites.

In addition, there were 663 Traveller families sharing houses.

“Roughly 5,500, or 18.6 per cent, of the Traveller population are in need of proper accommodation provision. Using Census 2011 figures, this would be the equivalent of 853,415 of the general population in need of housing. Yet, the Traveller accommodation situation has not been regarded as a housing crisis.”

Traveller agency

Pavee Point recommended the establishment of a statutory Traveller agency with powers to approve and enforce local authority Traveller accommodation plans.

It also said there should be sanctions for a failure to spend all funds allocated to local authorities for Traveller specific accommodation and called for the reinstatement of funding to 2008 levels at a minimum of €40 million.

Louth Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said there should be no evictions of Traveller families unless they had somewhere to go to.

“I think that’s a fundamental human rights issue,” he said.

Separately, the Irish Refugee Council told the committee that oversight of the reception of asylum seekers and refugees should be moved from the Department of Justice to the new Department of Housing.

The council said the reception of such individuals in the State was “primarily a housing issue” and should be dealt with alongside the wider housing issues that local communities and authorities were dealing with.

Chief executive Sue Conlan and Rory O’Neill of the refugee council called on the Government to complete and publish the new integration strategy and ensure that asylum seekers and refugees were included within it. It should include giving a minister responsibility for integration of these groups and other minority communities.

“The national housing crisis is an issue that is affecting all facets of the social spectrum, and like most social issues, it is the marginalised and vulnerable that bears the brunt of the problem,” the organisation said in its submission.