What is Traveller-specific accommodation?
Travellers and Traveller organisations frequently talk about accommodation or a home, but don’t talk about houses- why? Travellers are an indigenous ethnic minority group in Ireland with their own traditions, history, language and beliefs who traditionally were nomadic.
On the basis of their culture, many (but not all) Travellers today prefer to live in what is called “culturally appropriate” or “Traveller specific” accommodation- namely, halting sites or group housing schemes, where large extended families live together based on Traveller’s shared identity.
Irish Travellers are an indigenous nomadic ethnic group with a long established past in Irish history dating back to at least the 12th century. Traditionally Travellers played a vital role in an agrarian society, with niche roles as seasonal agrarian labourers, tinsmiths, Bards, poets- providing services as needed to a settled rural population. Travellers were nomadic for either part or all of the year, reflecting different family patterns and trades, but were characterised by their living in extended families.
Rapid changes in Irish society occurred in the 1960s in terms of industrialisation, mechanisation of farming, greater access to radio & TV, the cheap availability of plastic and rapid industrialisation. These changes had profound consequences for Travellers, in that roles which Travellers played in Irish society were rapidly replaced. These roles not only provided income and status for Travellers within Irish society but also supported nomadism as an expression of identity.
Travellers, like many settled people, responded to these rapid societal changes by moving in large numbers from rural areas to larger urban centres in search of work. Traveller families living in camps were viewed as “problems” which, to use the parlance of the Commission on Itinerancy, these “problems” would be solved by “absorption” into Irish society, by reducing the opportunity for nomadism to be practiced and permanently “settle” Travellers. Thus, the genesis of the first State approach to Traveller accommodation was developed, that the ills facing Travellers in Ireland resulted from their nomadic habits and “improvement” for Travellers was at hand by means of a policy of providing Travellers with houses
This view sadly continues even today, with some people with responsibility for providing accommodation have assumed that for Travellers to be integrated into Irish society, they need to stop being Travellers- that Travellers need to cease who they are and “become” settled people. This outdated thinking- commonly referred to as “assimilation” suggests that settled people know what is best for Travellers and on that basis, laws have been enacted that have made nomadism close to impossible for Travellers. The policy of assimilation or “absorption” was set out in the Report of the Commission on Itinerancy (1963); an ITM analysis of this report can be read here (link to publications section, Commission review doc)
Since the mid-80s, Travellers and those who stand in solidarity with Travellers have organised and campaigned that a really inclusive Ireland is based on people expressing their identity and culture, not suppressing it, and that a key part of Traveller ethnicity is for Travellers to live together in accommodation that respects their way of life. Lobbying and direct action resulted in the Government bringing in the Housing (Traveller) Accommodation Act in 1998 that placed a statutory obligation on Local Authorities to draw up successive four year plans based on consultation with local Travellers on how to meet their current and projected accommodation needs. To avoid any local conflict of interest, the funding for the Traveller Accommodation Programme is provided centrally from the Department of Environment to Local Authorities for capital funding to build halting sites and group housing schemes based on needs Travellers have identified.
So when we talk about “housing action” for Travellers, from a Traveller perspective it is important that it takes into account what Travellers actually want for themselves. So while Travellers may not specifically talk of “housing needs” but more likely “accommodation needs”, it is the same needs for Traveller and settled families alike- the right to a home, regardless of what that home might be. From a Traveller perspective, it is a home that keeps their Traveller identity intact.
For more information on our accommodation work programme or to get involved in our accommodation working group, email Rose Marie Maughan, ITM Accommodation worker on : firstname.lastname@example.org