Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
There is somewhere close to 40,000 people in the Traveller community, making it a significant indigenous ethnic group. Since 1996, its population has grown by 185%. The trajectory is upwards, certainly more so than for the general population, although there have been highs and lows in growth. In Limerick, for instance, the Traveller population has increased by 250% over the past 20 years.
The majority of Travellers live in rental accommodation, including private and local authority housing stock, with 12% living in either a caravan or mobile home. The goal should be to have no person living in a caravan or mobile home. Some 5% of the Traveller community live in roadside units, which is of huge concern both to themselves and to road users. Do we need to take the responsibility for the provision of Traveller accommodation away from the local authorities and give it to a statutory agency? That question arises because, for some unexplained reason, there has been a continuous underspend across the Traveller accommodation programme. Funds allocated were not drawn down, with an underspend of €14 million between 2014 and 2018. There appears to be significant funding available but its implementation seems to be an issue.
As the Traveller community is such a significant grouping, is there not the possibility of An Garda Síochána recruiting some person from within the ranks of the community who could become a liaison officer within the force, as is the case with other groupings and ethnic minorities?
This would help in all aspects.
I grew up on a family farm in County Limerick. My father was a lot older than me; he was born in 1911. The stories he told me about the Travelling community go back to the culture of the first such communities. They were the finest tradespeople and tinsmiths in the country. They used to come to the farm maybe twice a year and do whatever repairs my father would have. That culture has changed throughout the years, like all our cultures have, and every different culture grows. There are some fantastic Traveller families in this country. I know and am friendly with a lot of them. Many of them are still tradespeople. One of them even plastered walls in my own house a number of years ago. They are fine tradespeople. However, as in all other groups in Ireland, there is a minority - we have seen how minorities seem to get all the press and all the bad news. We saw the tragedy that happened to the families in Carrickmines. No family should have to go through that. If the local authority cannot do that job, let us take the responsibility away from it and set up an organisation that can.
There should not be anybody who is homeless: there should be nobody living in a caravan now. It is 2021 and we have people homeless, people living in caravans and people living in mobile homes. All of our cultures must change. With all respect to everyone, we must change with that and understand all the different cultures. I am into vintage myself and I love our history and I love our culture and I have to move with that. It is about time we all worked together to get a solution to do this and ensure the likes of the underspending that has been happening to date does not happen going forward. Everyone deserves to have a roof over their head, to have their life, to live and build from that. People from all walks of life must also be respectful. People must stop painting a picture of a minority of people who cause problems and let us look at the bigger picture of the people who actually contribute to our society.