Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Peadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
I have carried out a good bit of research over the last number of months on funding for Traveller accommodation. The responses I received to my parliamentary questions are absolutely shocking. Unbelievable information has come back in the last couple of weeks.
In 2017, local authorities drew down €4.8 million from an allocation of €9 million. In 2018, local authorities drew down €8.6 million from an allocation of €13 million. In 2020, all of the €14.4 million in funding was drawn down but no breakdown was given on what counties actually drew it down. This system was changed. Some counties could, therefore, have drawn all of that down and many other counties could have taken none. I believe the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is one of the most capable ministers ever at altering, moving or hiding statistics from public view.
In 2019, Donegal County Council was allocated €161,000 funding specifically for Traveller accommodation. It did not draw down a cent of that funding. In Leitrim County Council in 2019, nothing was drawn down despite an allocation of €178,000. In the same year, Monaghan County Council withdrew not a cent of the €100,000 that was available. Wicklow County Council was the same; €104,000 was available but it was untouched in 2019.
In 2018, Carlow County Council was offered funding of €167,000 but refused to draw it down. Likewise, Cork County Council was given €250,000 but did not withdraw any of it. In Galway city that year, the allocation was €176,000 and it remained untouched. In Westmeath, €150,000 was made available but nothing was sought. Wexford County Council saw a significant allocation of €500,000 for Traveller accommodation but it did not withdraw any funding. In 2017, Galway County Council withdrew none of the €625,000 available.
That is stunning information. I cannot think of funding for any other section of Irish society that would stay on the dusty shelf and be ignored in the jaws of a housing crisis, and in a situation where Traveller accommodation throughout the State is in shocking condition. The topic of Traveller accommodation is avoided at local political level in many cases. It is absolutely shameful that many county and city councils around the country have returned funding, which was allocated to the construction and maintenance of housing. They returned it to Dublin in the middle of a housing crisis.
In total, €15.7 million, which the Government offered to local authorities for housing in the last five years, has remained untouched. That fact speaks for itself. It is an astonishing figure. While one might argue that this is not a Government problem but a local authority problem, I would argue that the political parties in charge of the Dáil are also typically in charge of the local authorities around the country. At local level, I would also argue that an anti-Traveller attitude is leading, in some cases, to these decisions.
That said, there are definitely people within the establishment parties, such as Deputy Ó Cuív from County Galway, who is very strong with regard to Traveller accommodation. Indeed, he was the first to give out about the shocking burning of a house designated for a Traveller couple in Galway. Deputy Ó Cuív stood up for that couple, for which I know the Travelling community was very grateful.
Every single day, my office, and those of Aontú representatives around the country, are contacted about families in homelessness. These figures are a slap in the face to each of those families. In my county, there is a site called St. Patrick's Park. I must pay respect to Meath County Council for the massive work it has done in the last six months on trying to house many of the families living on that site.
Up until that period, however, the accommodation was incredible. A person would not believe it unless he or she saw it. Again, caravans and mobile homes were sitting on top of each other. Electric wires were hanging from one caravan to another and water pipes were running all over the place. In a situation that had echoes of Carrickmines, a trailer went on fire. A fire engine and ambulance had massive difficulty in getting to it simply because the road was blocked with low-hanging electric wires. The emergency services simply could not go up to the site. Given the fact that we had such a horrendous tragedy in Carrickmines, that this was allowed to occur at a time when funding was available throughout the country is absolutely wrong.
I read the report produced yesterday on homelessness and mortality. It is shocking. Some 79 people died in homelessness last year in the city of Dublin alone. There have been in excess of 40 deaths this year so far. Think about that; 40 people have died in homelessness in Dublin alone this year.
I asked the Minister to investigate homelessness last year. It is interesting that he started to investigate it but, of course, he finished his investigation after the temperatures had started to rise in the city. In the legacy of the former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, he started to question the figures. He said that some of these people might have actually died from car accidents while they were homeless. This was an actual comment made by the Minister with responsibility for housing to a journalist on the matter.
Major spin is happening here from the Government. I have a difficulty; the Government and some of the Opposition are a mirror image of each other. Both are using their ideological bias to prevent real housing solutions happening. We need to build for everybody in society. We need to make sure, however, that the funding available for Travellers around the country to have decent accommodation is used.