Accommodation – Key Issues
What we are working towards: “Culturally appropriate accommodation provided, with families living in resourced accommodation of their choice, including nomadic provision.”
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.
What is the current accommodation situation for Travellers in Ireland?
Accommodation has always been the key issue for Travellers. Poor accommodation impacts on every aspect of Travellers’ lives: their health, education, employment, mental health and opportunities for inclusion in society. Poorly designed sites without tenant participation more often than not do not account for traditional economic roles for Travellers or for Traveller horse ownership. Sites are often located at outskirts of towns and city, with huge walls, which leave Travellers isolated, without access to local services. This isolation can also have huge impact on mental health for Travellers. Poorly maintained sites with basic facilities have huge effects on Travellers’ health.
While accommodation has been a core issue for ITM (locally and nationally), our members have consistently spoken of an “accommodation crisis” since 2010. What has happened that has created this crisis which has worsened for Travellers?
Consistent failure to deliver targets for culturally appropriate accommodation under Traveller Accommodation plans has led to Travellers being forced to share bays, for young families to live with their parents and for some families to move onto the side of the road. Mirroring broader trends in non-delivery of social housing, the increasing policy has been for the market to provide solutions to accommodation issues through the provision of rent-supplement (later HAP) for the private rented marker.
However Travellers, particularly in smaller towns, face huge problems in accessing private rented accommodation, based on their identity. In some instances, Travellers are accessing private rented by sub-letting from existing tenants who, realising that Travellers have few options, can make a profit on their initial agreement. Travellers also report having to take substandard accommodation based on their desperation to access the housing market, resulting in health problems for their families. With an increase in rent prices, specifically in Dublin, Travellers are further marginalized. Also, the private rented sector is never going to provide any form of culturally-appropriate accommodation.
Despite the 1998 legislation being in place and significant resources being made available pre-austerity, Traveller organisations were aware of a failure of local authorities to meet targets in accommodation plans. From 2007-2012 over €50 million was returned unspent by local authorities on Traveller Accommodation allocations. Minister of State with responsibility Jan O’Sullivan responded (May 2013) “to request all local authorities to provide detailed explanations on why they have not drawn down their allocations for Traveller housing.” To date no explanation has been given.
With budget cuts due to austerity measures the situation has reached crisis point for Travellers accommodation, with many living in unauthorised accommodation, in over crowded conditions, sharing with families on official halting sites. With 819 Traveller family units (bays on halting sites or units on group housing schemes) required, 3,600 Travellers or 11% of the population in the Republic are officially homeless and yet in 2013 there was only €4 million available as capital and €2 million for current funding due to cuts in Traveller Accommodation budgets which have been reduced from €70 million since 2000. A further reduction to €3 million is planned for 2014.
The overseeing National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee has no authority to ensure local authorities are meeting their targets in their Traveller Accommodation Plans and no mechanism to impose sanctions unless the current strategy is reassessed by the Minister. In fact the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance said in its Second Report on Ireland (23 April 2002) that “the fact that no sanctions are provided for in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 against authorities who do not take measures to provide accommodation for Travellers may weaken its effectiveness.”
The new Traveller Accommodation Programmes (2014-2018) have been developed without the inclusion of a Traveller assessment of need. The process initiated by The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government relied on findings from housing applications obtained from local authorities rather than consultation with Travellers, undermining the actual need and the process required.
There is a worrying and trend in provision showing significant increases in Traveller families being placed into private rental accommodation (162 families in 2002 to 2,829 in 2012) and standard housing away from providing alternative culturally appropriate “Traveller specific” options which is contrary to the requirements outlined in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998.
A first Traveller-specific collective complaint has been submitted against the Irish Government (April 2013) by the European Roma Rights Centre (with supporting data from the Irish Traveller Movement) alleging successive Irish Governments have not ensured the application of Article 16 & 30 of the revised European Social Charter, particularly with respect to accommodation for Travellers in Ireland.
So why do we talk of a crisis for Traveller accommodation? The numbers speak for themselves: In the year 2000 reporting on the five year Traveller Accommodation Plans to the Minister for the Environment the National Accommodation Consultative Committee stated that there was a gross need of 3,629 units of accommodation. By the end of 2013 only 864 new units have been provided, with 591 Refurbishment / redevelopments bringing the total to 1,440 units and a further 47 units providing for nomadism via Transient provision are being used for emergency accommodation.
What ITM will do:
ITM members as part of our strategic plan have again looked to develop innovative measures to increase delivery of culturally appropriate accommodation, effective delivery and management of sites, active participation of Travellers in all aspects of their housing needs and alliances to ensure the political will to do so. The key actions over from 2017-2020 will focus on:
- Support the development and expansion of CENA as an innovative model to deliver culturally appropriate accommodation
- Develop tools and practices for the operation of more effective Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committees (LTACCs) to deliver outcomes for Travellers
- Develop a strategy to ensure Travellers are empowered locally and nationally to lobby for their accommodation needs
- Build political will to deliver Traveller accommodation with sufficient resources
- Build stronger relationships between Local Authority Staff and Travellers
- Ensure that Travellers are part of broader discussions on Social Housing and homelessness