Thursday, 1 June 2017
Report on Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity: Motion
The strategy states the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will ring fence the budget for Traveller accommodation and put in place robust mechanisms to monitor expenditure and delivery, including periodic reviews to assess progress in meeting needs, and that the Department will assess whether there are any barriers to Travellers accessing social housing. There is no mention of sanctions on local authorities that fail to provide accommodation or refuse to use the allocated funding.
As was reported in the media, Waterford City Council was given €676,000 to develop Traveller housing over the past two years but spent just €13,500. Carlow County council spent none of the €130,000 it was granted to fund Traveller housing. The council had estimated 109 new Traveller families would need accommodation in Carlow between 2014 and 2018, but spent it has spent no money since 2013 and does not plan to invest in additional Traveller housing in 2017. There does not seem to be any measure or concrete plan in place to address what appears to be a point-blank refusal by some local authorities to make use of the funding. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has promised an extra €3.5 million will be allocated for Traveller accommodation this year, but what is the point if local authorities will not even engage with programme?
Poor education and inadequate living conditions have a huge impact on health outcomes for Travellers. The ESRI report found the health gap between Travellers and non-Travellers increases rapidly after the age of 35, with 50% of Travellers in poor health compared to 22% of non-Travellers. The report concludes the disproportionate poor health of Travellers is due to a disadvantage that worsens over the course of a lifetime.
Irish politics has been on a neoliberal trajectory for decades, but it is going in a particularly worrying direction at present. There is an ideology among some in higher levels of Government who see society as binary in nature. On the one hand are the honest hard-working taxpayers who get up early in the morning and earn a good wage, and on the other are the entitled scroungers. There is a danger the Government feels that in recognising Traveller ethnicity it will have done its bit for Travellers. Indeed, Travellers are notably absent from much of the literature in the current Fine Gael leadership campaign. There has always been an expectation on Travellers that they should somehow be grateful for what they get, but this is a group which has been consistently discriminated against and abused by a system that facilitates casual and institutional racism against them. The Government now needs to take concrete steps to write these grievous wrongs.
Recently, I met four Traveller women in Wexford, two of whom were almost as old as myself and two young women. It was an absolute breath of fresh air to listen to them. They were looking for funding to set up an organisation to help Travellers work for fairness in the areas where they live. It is something they do not get at present. I hope the State will take a different approach to how we treat Travellers in every way. What we have seen for many years is nothing short of apartheid. We look at other countries and we can see clearly when something such as apartheid or genocide takes place, but very often when it is close to home we seem to be blind to it.
I commend the Minister of State for his interest in this. I also commend Deputy Ó Caoláin, the Chairman of the committee. As Deputy O'Callaghan said, the people who deserve the most praise are those in the Traveller community who have worked so hard to make a change and make a difference.
I hope when the new Ministers are selected, the winner will put talent before those who jumped on the favourite bandwagon fairly quickly at the start. I hope the Minister of State is treated well.