Councils and Traveller accommodation
Sir, – Cllr Malcolm Byrne of Fianna Fáil (Letters, July 25th) writes: “There is a misconception that local authorities are failing to provide accommodation for Traveller families. According to the latest data (2017), 6,234 Traveller families are in housing provided by local councils. Given that the 2016 census found that there were 8,717 Traveller households in Ireland, this means that 71.5 per cent of Traveller families’ housing needs are met by local authorities.”
In 2017, 11,116 Traveller families were counted in the Department of Environment Heritage and Local Government national annual count. Given that not all Travellers complete the census ethnic identifier, the total figure is an acknowledged underestimate of the population. The correct figure then is that 56 per cent live in standard local authority housing, 21 per cent in assisted private rented housing, 3 per cent with assistance in private houses, and 2 per cent via a voluntary housing body.
With legislation in place for 20 years providing for Travellers’ right to culturally-specific accommodation, such as group housing schemes and halting sites, only 16 per cent live in these today.
Some 15 per cent of families are either sharing in overcrowded accommodation or are in unauthorised sites, which is approximately 6,000 adults and children. In Wexford, that represents 98 of the 713 Traveller families there.
Government figures show that from 2009 to 2017, Wexford featured among six councils nationally that recorded the highest numbers of families in private rented accommodation (132 in 2017).
Families have been pushed into the private rented sector, where they are 22 times more likely to be discriminated by landlords, according to Irish Human Right and Equality Commission report 2018, rendering increasing numbers homeless and fuelling the national accommodation crisis further. The figures show increases of 162 homeless Traveller families in 2002 to 2,387 in 2017.
During that period only 68 per cent of the low targets set by local authorities and not controlled by national governance were met for Traveller-specific provision. Wexford again featured as one of six consistent under-deliverers nationally from 2009 to 2015.
Wexford also featured among the top four where families were in unauthorised sites in that period.
The Report of the Expert Group last week confirmed that: “Traveller households in receipt of HAP ( Housing Assistance Payment) and RAS ( Rental Accommodation Scheme ) allowances are not currently captured in the Social Housing Assessments data.”
Therefore, Wexford and other counties are complicit in a system that has overwhelmingly failed to determine accurately need and to plan accordingly.
The issue of whether Travellers are being “housed”, as Cllr Byrne writes, is missing the point.
Some would argue that housing Travellers is the more politically convenient approach for local authorities.
From 1997 to 2017, less than half of the Government’s planned 2,200 halting sites were delivered, while four times the target for housing provision was.
Last month the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission launched an equality review of city and county councils on opportunities or discrimination specific to Travellers who wish to avail of Traveller-specific accommodation, and practice and procedures regarding capital funding drawdowns for Traveller accommodation.
Minister of State for Housing Damien English has committed to examine and put right legislative provision, which according to the Expert Group, “failed to meet the full scale of accommodation need among this community, evidenced by the extremely high rate of homelessness, increase in Traveller households sharing accommodation and living in overcrowded conditions, and an uneven record of delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation among local authorities and also approved housing bodies”.
Cllr Byrne’s concerns that the Minister, “should defend local government, and he should look at addressing underlying issues”, neglects to recognise that the increase in homelessness among Travellers in Wexford and the poor standard of accommodation.
Addressing underlying issues, the report’s core objective, confirms inadequacies in local authority governance and practice. The duty of redressing those now relies on councils that, having been part of the problem, should be part of the solution. – Yours, etc,
and Political Advocacy
The Irish Traveller