Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 6 November 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Traveller Accommodation: Traveller Accommodation Expert Group
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting or switched to aeroplane, safe or flight mode depending on the device. It is not sufficient to place phones in silent mode because this will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
Today's meeting will involve engagement with the expert group on Traveller accommodation. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Professor Michelle Norris and Mr. David Joyce.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on Mr. Joyce to make his opening statement.
Mr. David Joyce:
I thank the committee for the opportunity to present to it. The Traveller accommodation expert group was established by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, earlier this year in order to review the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 and other legislation which impacts on the provision and delivery of accommodation to Travellers. The expert group met for the first time on 15 October. It has been tasked with thinking about the best way of approaching the delivery of Traveller accommodation, as well as providing the Minister of State with suggestions and key actions in the next six months.
The background to the setting up of the expert group is that A Programme for a Partnership Government contains a commitment to the establishment of a special working group to audit the current delivery and implementation of local authorities' Traveller accommodation programmes and to consult with stakeholders in respect of key areas of concern. On foot of this, the Housing Agency commissioned a report, on behalf of the Department, for an independent review of capital and current funding for Traveller-specific accommodation for the period 2000 to date.
The review had regard to the targets contained in the local authority Traveller accommodation programmes and units delivered, the current status of the accommodation funded and the funding provided for accommodation maintenance and other supports. On foot of this report, the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, NTACC, advised the Minister to establish an expert group to review the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 and other legislation that impacts the provision and delivery of accommodation for Travellers. The terms of reference were drawn up in consultation with the NTACC.
These terms of reference were to review the effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community, which takes effective implementation into account in the context of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017; to examine national and international best practice in the provision of accommodation for nomadic communities to inform the legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community; to review other legislation that impacts on the provision and delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation, including transient accommodation; to consult all relevant stakeholders at local and national level, including Traveller representative organisations and other stakeholder groups represented on the NTACC and the local Traveller accommodation consultative committees, LTACCs, with such consultation to include an invitation for written submissions and a series of meaningful national, regional and local workshops and focus groups; and to draft and present report and recommendations to the Minister within six months of commencement.
The Traveller accommodation expert group comprises three members. I will not go through the biographies, which are contained in the opening statement. The membership consists of myself and my colleagues, Professor Michelle Norris and Dr. Conor Norton. Dr. Norton sends his apologies this morning; he is out of the country on other business.
In respect of the initial focus of the expert review group, the first step taken by the expert review group was to gain an understanding of the key themes, challenges and issues on which to focus. To this end, the initial actions of the expert group were a desktop evaluation of research papers and reports considering the findings and recommendations, a desktop study and overview of planning code and planning issues and collation of planning statistics relating to Traveller accommodation and an understanding of current expenditure on Traveller accommodation, Traveller accommodation broken down, annual count, Census figures and Traveller homelessness. Some initial themes and barriers to the effective provision of Traveller accommodation identified by the expert group to focus on are land use planning and the interaction of the legislation and systems with the legislation on planning for Traveller accommodation provision; social housing provision, particularly, the provision of Traveller-specific social rented accommodation, for example, halting sites and group housing schemes, accurately measuring Travellers' preferences for Traveller-specific social housing compared to standard houses and apartments and the role of approved housing bodies, AHBs, in provision of Traveller accommodation; the increased use of private sector accommodation by Travellers either rented or privately owned, the push and pull factors, advantages and disadvantages associated with this development and how Travellers who wish to secure private accommodation can be supported; and key gaps in data provision which impede effective policy design and implementation, for example, annual patterns of movement by Travellers.
The next step the expert group intends to take is to complete the desktop evaluation, including a review of planning legislation, and to commence a consultation. The expert review group is now planning face-to-face consultations. Later this month, the expert group will meet with CENA - the Irish Travellers Movement, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Irish Council for Social Housing and Dr. Anna Visser of the Oireachtas Library. A member of the expert review group will attend the next NTACC meeting with Offaly LTACC later in November. Wider stakeholder consultation will take place in November and December with written submissions being requested from LTACCs, local authority social workers and other key stakeholders. We hope this committee will afford the members an opportunity to participate in this consultation and we are look forward to hearing members' views on the expert review of Traveller accommodation.
I thank the committee for allowing me to make an opening statement. I will take questions from members.
I thank Mr. Joyce for his opening remarks. I warmly welcome the establishment of the expert group. This committee has had a lot of discussions on Traveller accommodation and the failure of local and central government to spend funds allocated and to provide the housing included in the local Traveller accommodation plans. There is an openness among many of us on the committee to see significant changes and to consider good proposals to allow us to tackle that, mindful that we are going to have local government elections next year with a fresh round of Traveller accommodation planned for the five years after that.
Part of the reason we asked the expert group in today was not so much for it to report on its work, because we know it is only starting its work, but for the group to hear the committee members' views and give it a sense as to where this committee is at.
We tracked very carefully, both before the report was published last year and since then, the chronic underspends, particularly in specific local authorities. There is a mixed picture out there, which we acknowledge.
We are also very aware from our own experience that often there is an unwillingness to provide land and there are politics around the approvals of the Part 8 planning process. There are complexities around consultation. There are local Traveller consultative committees that work well and there are others that hardly work at all or very poorly. These are some of the key matters the expert group will be looking at.
Many of us in the Oireachtas would like to see quite radical recommendations coming back from the group as to options for Government. If one looks at the figures, it is intolerable to think that in 2017, local authorities overspent their standard social housing budget by a factor of €100 million and had to come back to the Oireachtas and Government and seek approval for that extra €100 million while in that same year, the underspend in the Traveller accommodation programmes was the worst recorded at 45%, with a number of local authorities spending nothing at all. At a time when local authorities are clearly able to spend, even with social housing projects that can sometimes be politically controversial, they can get over those humps. Clearly, the problem is not the systemof delivering housing, per se, but there are other factors at play.
I have no doubt, and I will say it publicly, that while there are many reasons individual projects are slower to deliver, prejudice operating at a community, political and management levels is one of the key factors. We have to be honest about that and where prejudice is clearly a barrier, we have to find mechanisms to take those decisions away from some of those people, or at least have the sanction of those decisions being taken away and handed for delivery somewhere else.
We had a lengthy discussion at the Committee on Housing and Homelessness on this matter and there was a proposal that where local authorities had a track record of not drawing down the money to spend in accordance with their Traveller accommodation programmes, that function would be taken away from them, even for a time-limited period. The idea was not that we wanted to take those powers away from local authorities but if that threat was hanging over them, it might add an additional incentive to draw down that money and spend it and if it was not spent, we wanted to make sure it was spent through some other mechanism. We could not get agreement at that committee, so this was not in its recommendations. The committee was split almost 50-50. Given that since then things have got worse, we have to revisit that, whether it is in terms of the section 183 land disposals, in the Part 8 planning proposals or otherwise.
We also need to look at the approvals and procurement process, and Professor Norris has considerable expertise in this. These are also factors in the delay in some of these things. Perhaps there are ways of speeding these up. The Government, for example, is about to increase the financial threshold for the one-stage approvals process up to €7 million, which would give a development of 20 units or so. There might be an argument for looking at having a specific one-stage approvals process for Traveller-specific accommodation if that €7 million figure is too low. That is something the expert group could look at and it could come back with some proposals.
Some other smaller things might be useful. We now get a very useful report, the social housing construction pipeline report, each quarter from the Department which gives us a project-by-project breakdown of where all the new build social housing construction by approved housing bodies and local authorities are at. We need something like that for Traveller-specific accommodation so this committee can track on a quarterly basis where the projects are at, which ones are being held up and why they are being held up, which would add that level of transparency.
Spend is not the only issue. As the Housing Agency report shows, while the overall underspend was 13%, the under-delivery of units was 31% so it relates to what it is spent on, whether that is new units, refurbishments and so on. We are keen to hear ideas around that.
Consultation on this is so important. There has been widespread misreporting and misinformed commentary on the situation regarding the housing units in Tipperary. It is clear from that that whatever about the detail, the consultative process failed. Had that been more effective, I do not believe that we would be in the situation that we are in. How do we make sure that at all stages, pre, during and post-Part 8, for example, or any other planning process, that the Travelling community, and especially the people who will be living in sites or units that are being developed, are centrally involved from the outset?
Should we consider sanctions for local authorities in other areas of their expenditure if they fail to spend Traveller accommodation budgets and meet their statutory requirements? I am just throwing this out there but if a local authority knew that its roads budget, for example, might be withheld if it did not spend its Traveller accommodation budget, it might focus the minds of elected representatives to do what they are legally required to do under the Traveller accommodation programmes. I am inviting the expert group to be as radical as possible and to put as many things on the table as possible, not because I want to see local authorities sanctioned or have powers removed but because at a time when Traveller accommodation budgets are finally beginning to increase, not a single euro of the post-recession increase in Traveller accommodation funds allocated to local authorities has been spent. If one looks at the last three years, as budget started to increase modestly, this has been completely underspent. I say modest, and we need much greater spending than that.
I appreciate that the expert group has a great deal of work to do. I am not telling it what its job should be because the three people here are far more expert on the issue than any member of this committee, however, we are about to enter into a local government cycle and getting legislation through the Oireachtas will become increasingly difficult the closer we get to that and we need to be honest about that. Therefore, the earlier that recommendations come back to Government, even if they are only initial headline recommendations around some of the legislative reform, the more conducive the political environment will be to consider them rationally and progress them through the Oireachtas. If we are looking at very significant proposals in changing things such as how section 183s or Part 8s operate within a couple of months of local elections, it will make it very difficult. If we do not get some of these changes in either just before or immediately after the local election, they will not inform the next five years of Traveller accommodation plans and budgets. I am not saying that the work should be done quickly at the expense of quality, but the working group should be mindful of the political timeframe under which we are operating. Many of us here would like to get good things through and the Minister has attended this committee, and I think that he also wants to get things through, but the space to do this is limited because of how the electoral cycle impinges on it, so it should be considered.
I echo many of the points made by Deputy Ó Broin. What specific work does the working group envisage in a root and branch examination of the role of local authorities? Deputy Ó Broin referred to the underspend. I wish to put on record the underspend in Tipperary, the local authority in the eye of the storm. In the past 18 years they underspent by €4.7 million. That is a very significant underspend when the spin in the media was all about money being spent and people not taking up offers, not that the reporting was accurate.
It is important that underspending is examined in the work of the expert group. The role of local authorities in those underspends should be outlined. The review should refer to the political activities and discriminatory practices of elected members who oppose accommodation. It is important the review does not avoid or skirt around it. We all know it happens and it should be discussed. The efficacy of local measures such as the LTACCs should be referred to in a root-and-branch examination of the role of local authorities in delivery. I hear them criticised anecdotally as not being useful and as being talking shops. Will the expert group take a view on whether we are talking about reforming local authorities and applying sanctions such as those Deputy Ó Broin outlined such that if a local authority does not spend its Traveller budget, it will not get its other budgets? Should we be looking at something far more radical and not wasting energy on reforming something that is not reformable given the latent prejudice among elected members representing their communities? Is the working group open to examining the establishment of an independent national Traveller accommodation agency? In its report back to the committee, will the working group be specific about addressing the issues of underspending, the crises in people's day-to-day lives, safety and overcrowding issues? Will it provide an interim report so that, having regard to the political cycle, we will not miss opportunities to get any legislation on the books?
The consultation with stakeholders will be critical. Groups on the ground have been doing an awful lot of work and research and it is important the expert group taps into it. In north Cork they have been conducting extensive data gathering and research on concerns among members of the Traveller community about accommodation. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we could take note of that work and research. It should be done in addition to the LTACCs, which would also connect with local Traveller development groups because they have their finger on the pulse of the issues people face on the ground.
I thank the witnesses for their presentation. I welcome the establishment of the expert group. It is time to get to the bottom of exactly what is stopping the delivery of Traveller accommodation, whether that is political blockages, administration blockages or critical infrastructure that is missing. In Wicklow, while we were trying to identify a number of transient halting sites, the lack of infrastructure to deliver sites was an issue. I acknowledge there is a lack of political will to deal with the Traveller issue. In some local authorities, the administration does not want to deal with it. It is probably the only budget in any local authority that is not spent. All the other budgets are spent. There is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with. That is why I welcome the expert group. I will welcome the report when it is published but the sooner the better. As Deputy Ó Broin said, we are coming into a local election cycle so it will be difficult to get decisions made the closer we come to that date. If local democracy is not working, we will sadly have to look at removing it from the remit of local democracy agencies. I am an advocate of local democracy but if local authorities are not willing to make the difficult decisions, the decisions will have to be made somewhere else, possibly at national level.
When we have a conversation about Traveller accommodation or lack thereof, we are having a conversation about human rights and the denial of human rights.
The expert group clearly has important work to do and the recommendations it comes up with will be important for the Traveller community, society and human rights. The discussion needs to be framed in this context.
I will use the example of the fire in Carrickmines. In the immediate aftermath of the fire local authorities throughout the country generally moved to take some action under pressure of public opinion and with a spotlight on the inaction of the past. What was done? There was some signage and some fire-fighting equipment and smoke detectors were installed on sites and an element of training was given, but as the weeks and months rolled by less and less was done and at a certain stage it came to a virtual standstill. Was the job complete when things came to a virtual standstill? Very far from it.
I highlight in particular the question of overcrowding on sites. I understand best practice, and what is meant to be achieved, is a 6 m gap between mobile homes, caravans and buildings. There is overcrowding on Traveller sites in this State and in the city where I am a public representative, and the 6 m gap is not met by a long shot. If we look at the halting site in Spring Lane in Ballyvolane on the north side of Cork city, if anything the overcrowding situation there is worse than it was a couple of years ago. The fire safety precautions that were meant to be implemented nationally in the wake of the tragedy do not come close to applying in daily practice on the site. Is it the only site in the country where this is the case? I very much doubt it. I have plenty of anecdotal evidence that it is not the only one. I use this as one example of a situation that needs to be addressed with urgency.
There is an elephant in the room, which is the conversation and debate that was had in the recent presidential election and its aftermath. It is not unusual to have wannabe politicians and councillors playing the Traveller card in local authority areas to big up their vote but this was on a level that had not been seen before in the State. A candidate in national presidential election cynically stirred up and appealed to anti-Traveller attitudes in society to boost his profile and vote.
Unfortunately, that was done with some success by the candidate in question. Against that backdrop, there could be a pressure or perceived pressure on the expert group to go easy or to soften the approach and come up with recommendations that do not rock the boat, but in the aftermath of that controversy I believe it is more important than ever that the expert group brings forward recommendations that are bold, radical and address the festering issues and problems that exist. This issue has been pushed to the side for far too long, as shown by the lack of spend in so many local authorities. It requires courage and proposals that match the needs of the situation, including addressing the human rights issues that are clearly present.
On the question of steps for consideration, a spotlight must be shone on the lack of both action and spending by local authorities, followed by proposals on how to address that. Nine councils did not invest any funds in housing schemes last year and only seven drew down 100% of the funding. In the Cork City Council area, despite the fact that there are at least 50 families living in overcrowded conditions, €97,000 from a fund of €1.1 million was spent. In fact, more than €4 million of the funds allocated last year in the country generally were not spent. I will not labour the point as the witnesses are aware of the information.
The information provided to the committee by Senator Kelleher contains a figure I had not heard about previously. Some €4.7 million-----
Yes. That figure says a great deal about the reality. Various ideas have arisen here. One is the idea of having a sanction hanging over councils whereby if a council does not spend its budget, sanctions will be put in place against the council on other fronts. There is also the idea that the powers be removed from the councils entirely and given to another entity whose job would be to do what is necessary and address the problems. I believe there would have to be some form of democratic accountability and input in that regard, but if we are at the stage where we must consider that then let us do so. The situation that has pertained for years has reached a point now where these issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Thank you, Deputy Barry. I wish to make some comments. Notwithstanding the witnesses and the people in the Public Gallery, there is a great deal of experience in local and national politics in this room with regard to realistic views and options that could be pursued. I have been through three development plans. I am very aware of that TA sign, taking it on, taking it off and the problems we have around that. It all comes down to clear communication and information in the local authority in that area. It is about bringing people from all communities with us, not leaving them behind. We do that through clear communication and leadership. That leadership must come from the local authority.
I am loath to take it away from the local authorities because it will add another layer of bureaucracy. They are best placed. They know the demographics, the needs and the wants of their communities in those areas. I am also loath to introduce sanctions because sanctions put up a wall. It is better to bring people along than to put up a wall. Introducing sanctions would be something I would do as a last call. A solution can always be found; nothing is insurmountable. I am also a realist. We have 15 accommodation programmes for the Traveller community in Dún Laoghaire which are all well maintained. There are issues with some; there are no issues with others. We have some issues on private estates but we do not have issues on other private estates. One tries to ensure balance and fairness in the system. It is up to the local authorities to come forward with solutions and sites.
A lot of information was made available to this committee. Some of us took advantage of that. I was delighted to meet with Anna Visser from the Library and Research Service who carried out a report. She went through it with me in great detail in respect of different areas of the country. It raised many issues that will need to be dealt with. We have to look at the needs as opposed to wants at local level. We also have to recognise that some Traveller families want to be in a permanent house rather than a Traveller accommodation programme, while others do not. It is about the desktop study the expert group has spoken about and about getting that database together to find out the needs of the Traveller community. Numerous other issues come up with regard to finding suitable land including objections from local communities. Funding is clearly not the problem; drawing it down is. There has to be a willingness, however, in the local authority to drive that. Local authorities are under fierce pressure as of late in respect of the delivery of social housing but this issue has to be part of that. I am delighted that the Minister of State, Deputy English, wanted to get this expert group together because he recognised that there is a problem that needs to be solved and that we have to recognise where those pinch points are and work on them together.
We also have to be fair about it. If there is a family on the side of the road for whatever reason, one has to be fair to the people who are living in that community. They have to be kept informed of the situation. We have to communicate with them. We have to find out why that family has decided to be on the side of the road. Is it because accommodation was not made available to them? Is it because they were not included in the system? Is it because the local authority is not aware of them? Have all solutions been offered to that family? If so, there has to be fairness for people who live in that area.
There is a role for all sides to play in teasing through these solutions. It is not about pitching local authorities against Government. It is not about adding another layer of bureaucracy and asking another body to enforce this. A group such as the expert group will come up with the radical solutions that are required and decisions will be made on the informed evidence which it will collate, rather than on the basis of one-liners such as those to which Deputy Barry alluded. None of us agreed with the comments that were made during the presidential campaign but there has to be a fairness in providing Traveller accommodation. It has to consider the need, want and demographic required in the area. There has to be proper consultation, and that can be difficult at times, but there has to be bravery in doing that. There also has to be a fairness.
In my own area in Shankill, we have a family that is on the side of the road in a particular area. There is no issue. They are not causing any trouble in any shape or form but there has to be a fairness. People are paying mortgages or rent. There has to be a balance in the system. It is hard to strike that balance and that is where the expert group will be pivotal. By doing that, we will bring people with us. Working together, I believe local authorities will play their role in delivery but that has to be done in a manner which we can all support, that local politicians also support and that delivers homes in safe communities for families.
Professor Michelle Norris:
I thank members for their valuable contributions which we will take on board. We are cognisant of their role and experience as public representatives in dealing with these issues on the ground and the valuable insights they can bring to the process.
They are correct on variable output. The latest figures supplied to us by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government indicate 67% of the total budget for Traveller accommodation over the past ten years has been drawn down. The drawdown levels are variable. Some local authorities have drawn down almost all the moneys made available while others have a zero drawdown rate. Senator Kelleher mentioned that in the past year, nine local authorities have drawn down no funding whatsoever, despite the fact that the Traveller population out of accommodation in some of these local authorities is high. The nine in question are Laois, Mayo, Monaghan, Westmeath, Longford, Wexford, Kildare, Galway and South Dublin County Council.
The issue of Traveller accommodation provision is solvable considering the small size of the Traveller population compared to the national population. That is a starting point from which we need to work. The policy and funding nationally has improved, been honed and reformed much over the past 20 years. The issue is with the implementation of the policy, particularly the differences between various local authorities. As part of our work, we have started to review the extensive volume of evidence collated on Traveller accommodation by the Department and the different Traveller bodies. There is much research on Traveller issues and there is ample evidence of what the problems are. It is an issue of collating the evidence, consulting with people and trying to identify solutions, particularly around the implementation side.
I acknowledge the points raised by the Chairman around trying to balance achieving output on the one hand, in many cases against opposition from local politicians and local communities, and bringing communities and local politicians around. The system of LTACCs, set up following the recommendation of the task force on the Traveller community, has worked well in some areas but not in others. There is learning we can bring from the areas where it has worked well. That is a point we will examine.
In the local authorities where it has not worked, there is no doubt that needs to be some intervention at this stage. Deputy Ó Broin mentioned the idea of a national body. That has been recommended in policy since the 1980s but not acted on. The challenge one faces is the particular local issues which operate regarding Traveller accommodation and the level of consultation with local communities. The other side of this is that if we continue to work with the situation where there is such under-delivery and uneven delivery around the country, the problem will never be resolved. In some ways, it creates additional problems for the local authorities that are meeting their responsibilities. It is unfair treatment of the local authorities that are meeting their responsibilities while other local authorities are getting away with the problem. Solutions such as sanctions are some of the issues we will examine.
There is also the issue of centralisation of the function. Although, in view of the fact there has been success in some areas and the importance of local consultation, that would have to be a last resort recommendation.
Some of the other points raised relate to the need for leadership from local authorities and elected Members in particular, which I acknowledge.
I will flag some other issues members did not raise in their comments that we plan to look at. Local authorities are not the sole providers of social housing so we will definitely examine the role of AHBs, which have been the major source of social housing supply since the economic crisis in the late 2000s. We will examine the potential role of AHBs in social housing supply, including speaking to a Traveller-specific AHB. We will also examine the increased number of Travellers in accommodation in the private sector. There are barriers to Travellers accessing private accommodation that we plan to look at. The research commissioned by the Housing Agency shows that in many cases, Travellers are pushed into private accommodation against their will and actually seek social housing but in other cases, Travellers have a preference for private accommodation. If they want to do so, they should be facilitated and barriers should be removed.
Mr. David Joyce:
I welcome the views of members, some of which are very practical in terms of very straightforward things. I like the idea of being able to monitor on project-by-project basis, something that does not occur currently with Traveller accommodation. In terms of the work we intend to do, there is a significant interaction between planning, the planning process and Traveller accommodation provision and not just at the level of local authority development. We should remember that many Travellers also seek to make their own provision, some of which could be considered specific provision in respect of sites or halting sites for themselves - essentially private provision. That type of development is not open to Travellers under our current planning system - certainly not in terms of the decisions that are made regarding those sort of applications. Clearly, there is a greater link between the objectives of a Traveller accommodation programme and that being a material consideration in the planning process. I hear the comments of the Chairman in terms of a balance being struck. Where there is a clear link in the planning process and Traveller accommodation, that need to address local concerns can be met in an objective way that prevents it being a political consideration. Ultimately, the idea behind planning is that there is local consultation within it. Currently, the provision of Traveller accommodation does not seem to be provided for within the entire planning process. When I say that, I mean it in the context of families who want to provide for themselves. It creates an issue so Traveller-specific accommodation rests with local authorities and the particular political issues that arise in that context.
We are looking at radical proposals. Some of them may not be very radical but we are certainly taking on board what has been said by members of the committee as Members of the national Parliament. They are ideas that will, hopefully, be reflected at some level within our report. Trying to address that balance can be done by objective legislation and removing the political capital that can be made from objecting to any type of accommodation and putting it into a more objective process as opposed to the current subjective process. Again, I welcome the comments made around the table this morning. The concerns that have been expressed about the actual spend when it comes back purely to local authority provision are concerning to the committee. They constitute one area that we hope to see addressed in our recommendations.
I have two small points. Obviously, there has been a very public debate about the more excessive language used by Peter Casey during his presidential election campaign.
One of the things that concerns me, however, is that in my experience much of the anti-Traveller prejudice that is most effective is the anti-Traveller prejudice that does not allow itself to be seen or heard publicly. It is what happens privately between certain councillors and managers and it uses a language which is a world away from Peter Casey's language and would insist that it is not prejudicial or designed to prevent Travellers from getting access to the accommodation they need and deserve. We need to be mindful also that the most dangerous anti-Traveller prejudice is that which vehemently protests that it is not prejudice at all, but is something else. I only say that because that is the stuff that has a much more negative day-to-day impact on the delivery of projects. That raises a challenge. Quantifying and proving that is much more difficult but it is important to state that. I am not at all disagreeing with Deputy Barry, who is right in what he is saying, but it needs to be named.
The second thing is a small bit of the picture but it is still worth noticing. We have spoken here about the global spend but, for example, if one looks at the spreadsheet provided by the Department for the Traveller caravan loan scheme, it is the same picture. One of the problems we are experiencing at the moment is that even in local authorities - South Dublin County Council is one example - where elected members, against some resistance from management, manage to push through a budget allocation for a caravan loan scheme, they get into all sorts of protracted arguments with management about the implementation of that scheme and the rules that are required. South Dublin County Council agreed a budget for Traveller accommodation before this Dáil was elected, and when a number of us were still members of the local authority, but not a single euro has been made available to people because of arguments over what is the best way to implement that scheme in terms of the financial rules and regulations. This might an element the expert group might look at also because clearly there are implementation issues with the loan scheme even though it is only a small bit of the overall picture.
Peter Drucker is a well-known business guru who says culture eats strategy for breakfast every day and in the expert group's considerations and proposals on the law and policy, it is very important to be mindful of the kinds of things that undermine implementation at a very ordinary level, as alluded to by Deputy Ó Broin. One may have the perfect structures and the perfect law. The law on the face of it is not a bad law but the fact is it is not working. We have to understand what is under the surface, although not as under the surface as has been the case since the presidential election. What are those impediments? How do they relate to the role of local government? We have to be mindful of looking at alternatives if these things are ultimately going to be serial blockages to delivery because they reflect not just the prejudice of elected members but of the people the elected members represent.
One may have a fantastic suite of solutions but if they do not pay attention to those underlying factors and human rights, as Deputy Barry stated, then all that will be worth nothing because it will be undermined, delayed and peeled back. A component of the expert group's report needs to pay attention to those matters as well.
Professor Michelle Norris:
Senator Kelleher is entirely correct. It is important not to forget the work that is being done at national level in reforming the policy, the procedures and the approvals. No doubt there is more work that could be done, but the information available to us indicates the key barrier is that projects are not being initiated at local level. We sought information from the Department on applications for Traveller accommodation funding as opposed to approvals. Some 100% of applications are approved. We also sought information on the planning process, and the Part 8 process provided a relatively fast track planning solution to getting planning for Traveller-specific accommodation. There is no doubt that there are problems and niggles with all these measures but the fundamental issue is that applications are not being initiated. That is the fundamental reason for the variation between output in different local authorities.
Some local authorities are active, others are less so.
Mr. David Joyce:
I welcome members' comments. We are open to their request that we keep the committee informed, whether that involves further meetings with it or the submission of an interim report. I take on board the comments about the timelines and the opportunities in respect of the local government cycle. We intend to work to the timeline we have been given and, hopefully, not go beyond that. The members of the review group see the potential for progress in light of the Minister's stated commitment on our findings. We intend to meet that deadline Should specific areas arise in our work on which the committee wants clarification, however, we are prepared to return and address them. We welcome members' comments and their strong and practical suggestions, which, I hope, we can reflect to some degree in the final report.
If Professor Norris does not wish to make any closing remarks, I will thank our witnesses for attending and engaging with the committee. No doubt they will be with us again before long. We look forward to that ongoing engagement.