Provision of Traveller housing must be ‘accelerated’, Council of Europe body warns

European Committee of Social Rights says State has yet to fully address findings against it

The provision of Traveller accommodation in the State must be “accelerated” and Traveller households should not be evicted from public land unless alternative accommodation is provided, a Council of Europe body has warned, as it found the State had failed to address fully several findings against it.

Giuseppe Palmisano, general rapporteur of the council body in question, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), also called on Irish councils to step up efforts to tackle "mould, dampness, sewage invasions [and] rat infestations" in social housing.

Mr Palmisano was speaking from Strasbourg at an online press-briefing on Wednesday at which the ECSR provided updates on 33 council member states' compliance with the European Social Charter.

The charter is a treaty of the Council of Europe, ratified by 43 of the council’s 47 members, guaranteeing fundamental rights in employment, housing, health, education, social protection and welfare. The Republic ratified it in 1964.

As well as commenting on the member states’ compliance with the charter, the committee on Wednesday updated on efforts by eight states to address findings made against them by the committee under the “collective complaints” process.

This process allows groups to complain to the committee where they believe their ECSR rights have been violated. If a complaint is deemed admissible the member state must respond, and findings are issued.

Four collective complaints have been upheld against the State in the last eight years, concerning Garda rights to strike and collective bargaining (in 2014); Travellers’ right to adequate housing (2016); local authority tenants’ right to adequate housing (2017), and Defence Forces’ right to trade union membership and collective bargaining (2017).

“In all of these cases, the ECSR found that the situation had still not been brought fully into conformity with the charter provisions invoked,” a briefing note from the committee said. In the case relating to the Garda, however, it noted: “The situation has now been remedied in respect of the right to organise and collective bargaining.”

‘No magic wand’

In response to a question from The Irish Times on measures the Government must take in relation to Traveller and local authority housing to meet its legal obligations, Mr Palmisano said there was no “magic wand” available.

“However, having said this, a tentative answer can be found not only in our findings but also in the comments and reports made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (Ihrec).”

Council-by-council “equality reviews” by Ihrec, published last year, found a lack of transparency as to how Traveller accommodation budgets were spent, as well as local authorities failing to spend their budgets in this regard and Traveller-specific barriers to accessing housing.

On Wednesday Mr Palmisano said: “First it would be important to accelerate and implement more fair procedures for making available to Travellers adequate housing.

“Then . . . do not continue to proceed to evictions of Traveller families without providing them at the same time with alternative, adequate shelters.”

Local authority tenants

In 2017 the committee found the rights of local authority tenants in several local authorities here had been breached. Mr Palmisano said on Wednesday this had not been remedied. He said “structures and infrastructures” were needed “to eliminate issues like mould, dampness, sewage invasions [and] rat infestations”.

The committee also commented on issues of ongoing concern across member states, including older people’s rights, workers’ rights and the rights of transgender people.

“State recognition of a person’s gender identity is itself a right recognised by international human rights law, including in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and is important to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of all human rights,” it said.