Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Paul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
Apologies from Deputy Bríd Smith who was originally due to be here and wanted to be here to speak. She is our representative on the Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community but she is tied up with the climate change Bill.
The housing crisis we are talking about and the particular crises facing the Traveller community is one reflection of the gross State and societal racism, discrimination and oppression they face. It is one gross and horrific aspect of it but it is clearly part of a wider process of racism and discrimination. The consequences of that racism and discrimination are plain for anyone to see in the conditions in which people are forced to live and in other respects. For example, accommodation is one of they key determinants of health, which contributes to Traveller children being 3.6 times more vulnerable to not surviving the first year of life. Some 50% of Travellers are not expected to live beyond 40 and the rates of Traveller homelessness have been already mentioned. In some counties, Travellers would make up 1% of the population but make up 50% of those who are homeless.
Every crisis that affects our society as a whole bears down particularly upon groups which are oppressed and discriminated against and the Traveller community is number one on that list in Ireland. If one takes the example of Covid, it bore down on the Traveller community harder than those in the settled community. They were extremely vulnerable because of the living conditions which made it impossible to comply with public health guidelines, particularly the need to self-isolate. Add to that the absence of access for many to fresh and clean water.
The money that was allocated to deal with Covid in terms of the Traveller community was not spent. We will come back to the story of money being allocated and not being spent again and again when it comes to the Traveller community in a way that does not seem to happen in other areas.
As of November 2020, only approximately €90,000 of an allocated €2.5 million was drawn down.
Housing is now emerging again as the key political focus. The danger is that the Traveller community will, at best, be forgotten or, unfortunately more likely, will be consciously ignored and have a blind eye turned to it and the Government will not deal with what needs to be dealt with to address the housing crisis. All the solutions will likely, and inadequately, focus on the needs of those in the settled community.
We must call out the living conditions that exist as a humanitarian crisis facing many Travellers. There have been many fine and good words and analyses of what is happening in this House but we must also examine why this crisis is taking place. We do not need more reports. Everybody knows why the crisis is taking place. It is a blunt and obvious thing when a bunch of money is allocated to local authorities for Traveller accommodation and only a tiny fraction of it is spent. More than €72 million was unspent by local authorities between 2008 and 2019. In 2020, only 16 new units of Traveller-specific accommodation were built, comprising seven houses, nine welfare units and no additional bays. Why is that? It is a reflection of general State and societal racism. Politicians clearly have an important role to play. The truth, which we must call out, is that there are very many local authority politicians, many of them members of establishment political parties, who play a race card against Travellers and block Traveller accommodation. That is the truth. A Minister of State in this Government described spending money on Traveller accommodation in a particular area as a waste of valuable resources. That is what needs to be challenged if we are going to try to assist and deal with this issue.