Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 October 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Traveller Accommodation: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage
I have no doubt about the Minister of State's sincerity in this regard and I also pay tribute to the work of a former Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, when he was in office. The concern is that this is still a problem for Travellers living in absolutely substandard accommodation. Whatever is the flaw in the whole system, we do not seem to have made much progress in 20 years. Over the past ten years we have had the Carrickmines tragedy, which was a massive national tragedy. We have had the report on Cork. We have a position where Travellers in my constituency were put on a temporary halting site and told they would be given proper permanent accommodation. Ten years later they are on a halting site for which the local authority has had no planning permission for over seven years. These families have been waiting for suitable permanent accommodation but they have not got it.
I have a fundamental question. We have all these reports but in each of these cases, there was a crisis on the ground and the system did not act. The Minister of State may talk about the local authority's responsibility in each case but who oversees the local authority not with a velvet glove but with an iron fist? In other words, if things are not happening, who will absolutely enforce the ordinary human rights of people living in properties owned by the local authorities? Until we answer that question, we will be writing reports until the cows come home and we will have tragedy after tragedy.
I was looking at some of the other contributions that will be made later. One of the challenges faced by people in local authority houses is that everything is decided for them, and it is even worse when they are Travellers. The benign idea is that we get the system to design what they want. If the Minister of State or I were to build a one-off rural house, we could decide what we want. If we bought a house, we could decide where we want to live and who we want to live with. It is a general principle but specifically with Travellers it is absolutely vital the community we propose to spend money on is central to what happens. Where people are involved in a process, it is much more likely to be respected and suitable for them.
We have spoken about percentages, specifically mentioning 45% for local authority housing and so on. Are there data on the percentage of homeless people in each local authority who come from this community, which comprises less than 1% of the population? My understanding is that in some of the local authorities the level is up to 50% of the total number of homeless people. They come from a very small minority in the community. Why is that? They find it very hard to access the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and private accommodation.
I could not give an ultimate decision between someone's standard form of housing and Traveller-specific housing. We could spend a long time on that this afternoon. I can guarantee one thing, though, and that is that nobody wants people to be homeless. That is absolutely the last resort. Very few Travellers would state HAP as a preference. A very small minority might prefer it but the vast majority do not see it as a permanent solution. We know 18% of them are in the rental accommodation scheme. Standard and Traveller-specific accommodation are two separate matters. There is also the question of the quality-specific accommodation.
With either standard housing or HAP there is another issue. Like with most humans, there is a strong bond of community in the Traveller community and they want to be near family. Not all Travellers belong to the same families, and we recognise there may be a rivalry between families. Nevertheless, they wish to be with their families in many cases. I get this all the time on a human level. I cannot understand, when we allocate houses, that it must be on a numbers game rather than asking whether the person fits into a community where he or she would be happy, have familial supports and be able to support parents in turn.
I could go on. I recognise the Minister of State's attention to this but Ministers come and Ministers go; the problem is the system seems to go on forever with the same failed policies.