Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Thomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
It is a pity these are just statements and not us debating emergency legislation to address local authorities’ failure to provide appropriate accommodation for Travellers. I listen to those who say "Nothing about us without us" so I reached out to a Traveller woman named Anne from Cork to get input from the community most affected by recent reports.
On 24 May the Ombudsman for Children published a scathing report on conditions at a site in Cork. After three years of investigative work, the Ombudsman for Children found Cork County Council failed to maintain the site, failed to maintain the toilet and showering facilities, failed to ensure that there was consistent waste management and pest control and failed to provide a clear and safe passage to school, or play areas for children. Anne told me that she found the Taoiseach’s response to the Ombudsman for Children's No End in Site report "disappointing". Anne says, and I agree, that human rights and Traveller children's human rights are indivisible. Anne asked that I call for an immediate intervention by the relevant Departments and the Department of the Taoiseach with Cork City Council to address the findings as a matter of urgency. That needs to be done, and indeed it could be done with every local authority in the country because they are all failing, and the reason they are failing is that local authority members will not step up to the mark.
Anne asked that I highlight the complete dysfunctionality of what the Government calls its Framework for Traveller Accommodation, which the ESRI also found to be "dysfunctional" in 2017, and that I call for the immediate implementation of the recommendations of the Expert Group on Traveller Accommodation, which has been awaiting implementation for the last two years. As such, it is not only local authorities that are dragging their heels. Anne wants a review of Traveller accommodation, namely, group housing and halting sites both official and unofficial, across the country and for the rights of Traveller children to be looked at.
There are issues with Traveller accommodation right across the country, not just in Cork. As Senator Eileen Flynn said, following the release of the report, "It’s a damning report which tells an all too familiar story when it comes to Traveller accommodation." It is heartbreaking to see what the children said in the report. A 12-year-old girl said: "It’s like an abandoned place that people forgot about, it’s like we’re forgotten, we feel like garbage." A 7-year-old boy said: "We only play in puddles." A 13-year-old girl said: "It takes two or three hours to heat up a bath." Some sites do not even have water to allow people to have a bath.
Local authorities and Government should absolutely be held accountable for their despicable failings. I would also like to give a final shout out to brilliant Mincéir beoirs like Rosemarie Maughan, Anne Marie Quilligan and many others who are speaking out, educating us and holding the Irish public to account. It is sad they have to do that. We all have a responsibility to call out racism and discrimination against Travellers wherever it occurs and it is beyond time for solidarity from us all.