Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee On Key Issues Affecting The Traveller Community
Expert Group Review of Traveller Accommodation: Discussion
I thank the witnesses for their statements and wisdom today. I share their concerns. I would like to raise some issues for the record. At a time when more families are falling into severe deprivation and many sites lack basic infrastructure, such as functioning wastewater systems, it is incredibly disappointing to read from the recent Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, report that only four development plans make a genuine effort to include accommodation needs for Travellers by including maps to identify Traveller-specific accommodation, and that of the four, only one development plan includes potential sites. The funding is there for new builds and refurbishment, both of which are critically needed. However, political will has not been there in recent times.
We need proper, long-term, sustainable planning and a uniform approach to deliver Traveller-specific accommodation, led by local authority executive planners in our development plans. From what I am hearing, today they typically come to councillors with a plan and develop it. I do not recall that happening in my days as councillor. That is an important space, that councillors can be educated where these sites can go.
If the report says what it says, it is disappointing. Maintenance should be carried out on existing sites and basic infrastructure provided in the short term, as we talked about. That should be prioritised to ensure that no child or family is living in deprivation. In my experience, there is a disconnect in how we are supporting and protecting Travelling communities. The Housing First system provides a wraparound system of services. Is something akin to that required to address this issue, apart from delivering the facilities and services?
Based on the figures provided, an overwhelming majority of Travellers live in accommodation provided by the State and-or the private market, approximately 78%, and only 22% in Traveller-specific accommodation. My first question, then, probably answers itself. Is a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation forcing families to look for alternative accommodation in the social or private housing sector? I would also like to hear the witnesses' views on the lack of basic water infrastructure. It is simply incomprehensible that 5% of Travellers are living without piped water or sewerage services. It is the responsibility of the national government and local government to ensure that these issues are addressed as soon as they are identified. At the very least, local authorities should be directed by the Department, as a matter of urgency, to use the funding they have been allocated to ensure basic infrastructure is provided.
There is an example of a serious drainage issue in my constituency. It has been ongoing for more than a decade and involves raw effluent backing up into a dweller's properly. The issue has been identified, but it still has been not been remedied. It is an ongoing issue that involves a lady, with children, who frequently has to move out of her house.
I am also interested in the pilot caravan loans scheme, which is due to be rolled out nationally in 2022. Will the witnesses elaborate on the detail of this scheme and how it has been received by the Travelling community? How many applicants have applied for the scheme so far and been approved?