Irish Times view on local authorities’ compliance with human rights: Traveller accommodation

If litigation is required to compel action by local authorities, IHREC should not shy from taking it

Travellers number just 31,000 people, or about 0.7 per cent of the population

Travellers number just 31,000 people, or about 0.7 per cent of the population

 

Publication by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) of a raft of “equality reviews” of local authorities’ compliance with their human rights obligations to Travellers should be a watershed moment. The 31 council-by-council reports were instigated in 2019 in the face of consistent under-spending of Traveller accommodation budgets. Between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two-thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

Coming from an oversight body of international standing, with the heft and authority of the United Nations behind it, the reviews reveal varying degrees of engagement by local authorities with their Traveller populations. There is evidence in some councils of committed and thoughtful public servants doing their best. In others, however, a depressingly familiar picture emerges – of a lack of interest, urgency or even understanding.

None of the councils is gathering accurate data on how many Travellers are in their areas nor recording the ethnicity of social-housing applicants. There is a dearth of transparency on decision-making around how, or whether, to spend Traveller accommodation budgets.

The findings are no surprise to Travellers living with the results of this statutory neglect. They come two months after a damning report from the Ombudsman for Children detailing filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, unsafe and cold and damp conditions at a Cork city halting site – conditions repeated up and down the country.

The commission has asked the 31 local authorities to explain by August 31st what actions they have taken, or intend to, within specific timeframes. It will then consider whether enforcement action, by way of litigation, is necessary.

Travellers number just 31,000 people, or about 0.7 per cent of the population. They are legally entitled to culturally appropriate housing. Like all social tenants, Travellers in social housing will pay rent for it. If litigation is required to compel action by local authorities, IHREC should not shy from taking it.

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