Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Adjournment Matters. - Traveller Accommodation.
I wish to know whether the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has monitored the progress of South Dublin County Council, of which I was previously a member, in terms of the delivery of its Traveller accommodation programme. There does not seem to have been much progress in respect of this programme, which was adopted almost five years ago and which is due for completion in 2004.
There has been a reduction in the number of dwellings and halting sites bays provided by South Dublin County Council in that period. There are different reasons for that, particularly in cases where sites had to be closed down and new ones opened elsewhere and where emergency accommodation had to be provided, etc. However, there is a problem in terms of delivery. The Government has required local authorities to put in place Traveller accommodation programmes, etc. The situation is similar to that relating to housing programmes. Is the county council being given the necessary support to allow it to deliver on its targets or is the council at fault in some way? Progress has been extremely slow.
The situation in respect of housing has improved. In my county council area, we are starting to see delivery of such housing but this took some time to achieve. The same cannot be said, however, with regard to the Traveller accommodation programme. This is leading to a lack of faith on the part of the settled and Traveller communities. Many members of the Traveller community do not have anywhere to stay or do not have proper accommodation. These people were given hope when the accommodation programme was adopted, but the closer we come to the completion date, and in the absence of delivery, they are losing that hope.
Members of the settled community do not really understand that some of the illegal sites in their areas only came into being because enough permanent accommodation has not been provided. I accept that there are small numbers of Travellers who are not indigenous and who come here to stay for a couple of weeks on illegal or unauthorised sites and leave a mess which has to be cleared up by the county council. These people cause a great deal of distress to local communities.
Delivery in respect of the accommodation programme must be achieved in order that everyone remains on board. County councillors in my area are generally supportive of the Traveller accommodation programme in individual proposals. However, in the absence of delivery and the consequential pressure from both sides, it is difficult for councillors to continue to do so. I await the Minister of State's response.
The role of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in respect of Traveller accommodation is to ensure that there is an adequate legislative and financial framework in place within which local authorities, including South Dublin County Council, can provide accommodation for Travellers. The Department supports local authorities in undertaking Traveller specific accommodation projects through the provision of guidelines on the standards to be achieved for the various types of Traveller-specific accommodation and by providing 100% funding for the provision of new Traveller accommodation and the refurbishment of existing accommodation.
The implementation of its five year programmes is a matter for each local authority. The Department monitors progress on the implementation of these programmes through reports from local authorities, through each local authority's return on the annual count of Traveller families within its area, including details of their accommodation circumstances, and from ongoing contacts with local authorities. South Dublin County Council also makes available to the Department ongoing progress reports in respect of emerging proposals for Traveller accommodation.
South Dublin County Council adopted its 2000-2004 Traveller accommodation programme in March 2000. At that time, the council estimated that over the lifetime of the programme, additional accommodation would be required for 315 Traveller families. It estimated that a further 62 families would be accommodated on halting site bays vacated by families moving to group houses. It is understood that the council's assessment of need indicated that 74 families would opt for standard local authority accommodation and that 240 units of Traveller-specific accommodation would be required. However, it is understood from the council that the rate of new family formations has been less than originally estimated and that the requirement for Traveller-specific accommodation during the course of the programmes will in fact be 160 units.
To date, the council has provided 59 of the required 74 units of standard accommodation, completed 19 new units of Traveller-specific accommodation and recently signed a contract for the construction of a further ten units at Belgard. In addition, it has completed planning approval stages for 68 units. It is expected that the plans for a further 26 units will proceed to the consultation phase early in 2004. The council has also identified three further sites for the remaining 17 units and is at the early stages of developing accommodation proposals for these sites. As the provision of new units of accommodation has not been at the rate which had been originally hoped, the council has provided up to 50 temporary halting site bays and is in the process of upgrading other temporary units of accommodation pending the provision of the required permanent facilities.
Since the adoption of the programme, the Department has provided a total of €9.29 million to South Dublin County Council for such schemes. This is in addition to expenditure on the provision of standard local authority accommodation in which Traveller families are being accommodated. The latter represents considerable investment in the provision and refurbishment of Traveller-specific accommodation in south Dublin. The council is in the process of rolling out its comprehensive accommodation programme. While it accepts that it is unlikely that the full programme will be completely rolled out before the end of the five year period, the council proposes to continue to make considerable progress on the complete programme.