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Irish Traveller Movement Statement on the Report of the National Fire Safety initiative for Travellers

 
22nd September 2016   

The Irish Traveller Movement welcome the report on the review of fire safety in Traveller accommodation released yesterday evening by Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Simon Coveney and acknowledge the work of the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management NDFEM.

While work has been done to improve fire safety at Traveller specific accommodation, the overall consensus by local Traveller organisations is that Travellers are still not safe enough in their accommodation and a priority concern is the issue of overcrowding.   

The report noted “nothing in the Guide is intended to be used to try to deal with overcrowding or other broader site management issues, the Guide does recognise a range of issues that are specific to Travellers and that protecting people from the dangers of fire is particularly challenging in the confined and cramped conditions that families living in caravans or nonstandard accommodation may find themselves”. According to Department of Housing statistics in the last year alone there was an increase of 135 Traveller families estimated to be sharing accommodation accounting for 862 families in the State, or approximately over 4,000 men, women and children.

Overcrowding as a direct consequence of the failures in policy and practice to meet the mandatory requirements to support Travellers to have a home has culminated in a crisis. Many Travellers live in what would be regarded as poor substandard accommodation, with severe overcrowding on sites, gross deterioration and where some sites become uninhabitable, eventually closing and resulting in recent increases in Traveller families becoming homeless. The configuration of those sites plays a part in fire access and general safety, the report found The Configuration of Adjacent Units within pitches/ bays was determined to be an issue affecting 54% of the sites appraised.

The separation distances between mobile homes in many cases on halting sites where families have been long fingered by local authorities to provide other more secure Traveller specific accommodation is a serious cause of concern. The review was undertaken however in only over half (57%) of the sites throughout the country and of these, 35% have had remedial steps undertaken.

As an accommodation type most vulnerable to fire safety and access to services the report found that It is evident that unofficial and roadside halting sites were the categories most likely to have been missed in the audit.  Currently 534 families are living in unofficial, unrecognised and unserved accommodation. In May 2016 the European Committee of Social Rights found the Irish government to be in violation of Article 16 of the European Social Charter on 5 grounds including on the grounds of insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers and concluding that a not insignificant number of sites are in poor condition, lack maintenance and are badly located. In order to satisfy Article 16 Ireland as a signatory to the European Social Charter must comply with its provisions however to date Minister Coveney has not effected any proposed amendments to policy or practice, to address the concerns of the European Committee in response to those violations.

According to Director of the Irish Traveller Movement Bernard Joyce “The direct correlation between Travellers quality of life, physical and mental, is linked to the quality of their accommodation and the issue of fire safety protection is a basic entitlement. While we welcome the report findings it concurs with concerns raised by National and local Traveller organisations over many years and to successive governments and local authorities, that Travellers are at risk and vulnerable to fire as a consequence of poor standards in living conditions, overcrowding and lack of access to services and facilities. Since the devastating fire in Carrickmines there have been other fires at halting sites and while some progress has been made, we call on the Minister to prioritise the issue of overcrowding on sites as a matter of urgency and address the issues raised under the European Social Charter”

Long term issues raised with local authorities and the Department of the Environment relate to barriers erected at halting sites as a potential hazard for fire and emergency services and the report found that access restrictions were identified at 31% of the sites appraised.

The Irish Traveller Movement agree with the report recommendations and in particular to sufficiently deal with the process for engaging Traveller interests. Concerns were raised in the process that newly established committees in local authority areas to carry out the initiative did not include Travellers explicitly or Traveller organisation representatives, which impacted on the quality and outcome of the review process.

Another concern raised by the Irish Traveller Movement at the outset of the review was the scope of the audit which could have extended to 10,226 Traveller families residing in various forms of accommodation, throughout Ireland, rather than the target of 2,200 in the categories shown in Table 2.2.

The Irish Traveller Movement representing the local network of Traveller interests reiterate the importance of progressing the fire safety initiative nationally to its full conclusion in Traveller accommodation with an objective to improve the consultation and implementation process and prioritise incomplete targets.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Jacinta Brack at publicrelationsitm@gmail.com