Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Duncan Smith (Dublin Fingal, Labour)
I will pick up on the final point Deputy Ó Broin raised, which was the spend of central funding moneys for Traveller accommodation. It took a unique global event such as this pandemic for the full allocation of central funding to be spent. This disease impacts the old, the vulnerable, the poor and those who live in the most cramped conditions and because of that, the money was spent. However, in 2019, 14 local authorities drew down zero central funding for Traveller accommodation. In 2018, there was an overall underspend of 48% by local authorities on Traveller accommodation. While there was a full drawdown last year, let us see what happens this year, next year and the years after. Will we have changed as a political body, at national and local level, and shown we really care about solving the crisis in Traveller accommodation?
It is a crisis. The word "squalor" is not being used frivolously here. Deputy Gould mentioned the reports in the media over the last few days about the site run by Cork City Council. From 2019 up to when I was elected to this House, I was chair of the Traveller accommodation committee in Fingal County Council and visited sites myself. Some were official and some unofficial but they were all sites that housed people and were homes for them. The conditions in some were absolutely appalling. It is hard to reflect that in any article, descriptively written as they may be. Experiencing the conditions in which citizens in our State are living is something that has to be done in the first person and it is something one will never forget. Those conditions have to change.
Today we have dedicated 100 minutes to statements on Traveller accommodation. We are not discussing legislation or actual, real change. We are making statements, setting out a few positions and saying what we would like to see but what we would like to see is real change. We need leadership in this House and across parties, because it is a cross-party issue. We need leadership at local council level as well. We need leadership when it comes to developing county development plans and identifying sites. We need leaders in the local community to stand up to ensure we identify sites that are more than adequate - are good - and that they follow through with good plans for sufficient and safe housing that is culturally appropriate for the community. We need leaders within our local authorities and I have worked with leaders within our local authorities who want to see that happen. We need leaders in both in the Traveller and settled communities to fight for this change, believe in it and tackle prejudices because we all know the pressures that are applied when any plans for Traveller housing emerge, be they real plans or part of a county development plan coming down the line. As public representatives, we have to stand up and be counted, whether that is in a local authority, a county or city council or, indeed, in this House. Deputies cannot come in here and say one thing and then put out leaflets and make representations saying the opposite. We have to stand up to be counted for those who are most vulnerable and who are living in the worst conditions in this State.
We will move on from media inquiries. If we ever resolve this issue, there will be national inquiries, given the levels of deprivation in which people in our State are living. There is no excuse for this situation, apart from a lack of political will and leadership at all levels. That must change at all levels and across all parties.