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Fact Sheet on Nomadism

Irish Travellers are an indigenous ethnic minority who have a long shared history, cultural values, language, customs and traditions. Their culture and way of life, of which nomadism is an important factor, distinguishes them from the sedentary (settled) population.

Nomadism is an historical tradition and part of Traveller culture. It is not an activity or simply a descriptor of lifestyle, nomadism is part of who and what Travellers are; it is part of their being as a people.


"When Travellers speak of travelling, we mean something different from what country people [settled people] usually understand by it. Country people travel to get from A to B. But for Travellers, the physical fact of moving is just one aspect of a nomadic mind-set that permeates every aspect of our lives. Nomadism entails a way of looking at the world, a different way of perceiving things, a different attitude to accommodation, to work and to life in general".

 [Michael Mc Donagh, Traveller activist]

Government Response

The 1995 Task Force Report on the Travelling Community recommended that 1,000 units of transient accommodation be provided nationwide, To date there are less than 100 transient bays available nationally. The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998 provides that the provision of accommodation is done in a way that meets the distinct needs of Travellers. 

Specific issues highlighted in the Department of the Environment and Local Government Memorandum on the Implementation of the Local Traveller Accommodation Programmes included:          

  • Regard for the need of transient sites (for stays of short duration as distinct from sites or parks for caravans for use as a permanent home).
  • Transient halting sites, as defined in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 refers to sites for Travellers with limited facilities for use other than their normal place of residence. This legislation requires local authorities, in consultation with Travellers "to prepare and adopt a Traveller Accommodation Programme to meet the existing and projected accommodation needs of Travellers"
  • The 1998 Act places a specific obligation on Local Authorities to provide for the annual patterns of movement of families. This not only requires Local Authorities to refrain from taking measures that would inhibit Nomadism but also places a positive obligation on the Local Authority to provide services to facilitate Nomadism. The provision of transient sites is an integral part of the 1998 Act, It is not an optional extra.
  • Guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government in 1998 indicated that there were a variety of approaches possible to providing accommodation for transient Traveller families. These included a network of transient sites, accommodation beside permanent halting sites or group houses. Facilities provided may be a simple pull-in/ pull-out are or a full range of services.   

Current Context

  • To date only one Transient site has been developed as part of the Traveller Accommodation Programmes.
  • In 2004 a sub group of the NTACC carried out a Review of the operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998. This Group recommended that the use of land as a transient halting site for a specified number of weeks per year should be prescribed as exempted development under Section 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. This would mean that planning permission would not be required for short term transient sites for events/fairs etc.
  • In response to the lack of delivery of sites to accommodate nomadism the Minister for Housing and Urban renewal asked the NTACC to "flesh out" the issues and report to him. In order to do this the NTACC have established a sub group to develop suggestions for practical approaches of the needs of transient families.
  • In the most recent Traveller Accommodation Programmes 2005-2009, some Local Authorities had the following to say in regard to the provision of transient sites: "The Council has no proposal at this time to put a transient site in place. The local authorities in the mid-west region have made a submission to the DoEHLG that the provision of transient sites is a national issue". "Co-ordinated provision of such sites on a regional basis is considered appropriate". "It is council policy to provide non-transient accommodation only for  county indigenous Traveller community permanently residents in the county for at least three years." Such positions by Local Authority's are directly in conflict with the 1998 Act, the NTACC and the Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, however they have been let proceed with such policies without sanction.

Accommodating Nomadism

  • The Government should immediately through the operation of the NTACC structure establish a body to co-ordinate the delivery of Transient accommodation. This body would have a short term lifespan (3 years) and would have responsibility for co-ordination, development, construction and management of a network of transient sites. It is evident that such co-ordination is needed to initiate the delivery of transient accommodation. The ITM believe that in most cases Local Authorities would be in favour of such an approach, as many of them have outlined this in their Traveller Accommodation Programmes.
  • Accommodating nomadism should consist of a designated place (at least 1 in each county) where Travellers can come and temporarily stay. Transient accommodation should not be confused with permanent halting sites nor should elaborate specification for facilities for transient accommodation be used as an excuse for further delay. 
  • Evidence from research carried out by the ITM had a very clear preference for transient site provision to be kept small and services basic. Basic facilities include hard surface, water, toilets and electricity supply.
  • Provision in law should be made for the use of land as a transient place of stay, for a specified number of weeks per year, be prescribed as exempted development.
  • Provision should be made in law for providing basic services for those parked on the roadside in emergency situations where there is no specific safety issue at stake. 
  • Provision should be made in law for the provision of stop-overs at appropriate serviced lay-byes to provide services to families moving between locations. 
  • Provision in law should be made for licensing land for events such as the pilgrimage in Knock and Ballinasloe Horse Fair etc. 
  • There should be a network of sites/stopping places with at least one in each county. 
  • The ITM would have concerns about this being carried out on a Pilot basis as the very fact of pilot schemes would negate the demand for such sites to be provided on a networked basis, failure to proceed with a rapid implementation plan could be used to delay overall provision.
  • Provision should be open on request and closed when not in use, but be maintained regularly.
  • The use of a transient site should incur a flat fee per caravan. It is proposed that the level of charge should reflect the quality of facilities present.
  • It is proposed that the occupancy, by licence of any provision should include rules and/or a contract governing the period of occupancy.
  • There should be an 8-week maximum duration of stay. Whatever time is decided in any particular case should be adhered too by both the Travellers and Local Authority.
  • Transient site provision, both as a campaigning issue and when a proposal is being made public, has the potential to generate tension and conflict between Travellers and settled people in the area who are likely to oppose the development; and between Travellers who might avail of such provision and Travellers who are normally living in that area but whose permanent accommodation needs have not been met.
  • In light of this the ITM stresses, the need for parallel programmes of accommodation provision, permanent and transient. Transient provision must go hand in hand with permanent accommodation options otherwise sites that are intended as transient will be used by families awaiting accommodation on a permanant basis.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • The absence of any legislation which identifies Irish Travellers as an ethnic group, coupled with the absence of any sanctions in the 1998 legislation for failure to meet Traveller accommodation, assists local authorities to display hostility to the concept of nomadism and neglect, ignore or delay meeting their real accommodation needs.
  • Irish Traveller Movement insists that transient site provision is an integral part of a local authority's accommodation plan; that its location and services should be negotiated with potential users and local Travellers and Traveller organisations. It must not be used as a "temporary" accommodation option for Travellers in the locality awaiting permanent accommodation.
  • Irish Travellers are a nomadic people. Their accommodation needs have not been met in a culturally appropriate manner. While  little progress has been made in recent years on Travellers primary accommodation facilities the provision of transient sites has not been a priority. 
  • The failure of local authorities to have met their targets in regard to permanent accommodation options as set out in TAPs 2000-4 (See 2.1.15 --2.1.20) and their inability to meet targets in the current programme pushes the implementation of transient accommodation further down the priority list. Irish Traveller Movement believes it is imperative that transient site provision be seen as important as permanent accommodation and at this stage needs to be co-ordinated on a national basis.
  • The transient  programme must be conceived as national network (within the Republic) and possibly as an island network with some opportunities for cross-border co-operation on provision.

Progressing the provision of Traveller Accommodation to faciliate Nomadism: a discussion document

The discussion document "Progressing the provision of Traveller Accommodation to faciliate Nomadism: a discussion document" was launched on December 7th 2009 as part of Traveller Focus Week.