Sharp Increase in Dublin Councils’ Use of Notices to Move on Travellers, Figures Suggest

There’s been a sharp increase in the Dublin area in councils using notices to move on people in caravans and similar who might have parked or pitched up on public lands or on the sides of roads.

Collectively, the four councils in the Dublin area issued 42 “Section 10” notices in 2017 – then 87 in 2018 and 159 in 2019. That’s an almost four-fold increase.

South Dublin County Council accounted for the bulk of that leap, jumping between 2017 and 2019 from 18 to 124 notices issued. That’s an almost seven-fold increase.

Fingal County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council had smaller increases. The former issued 8 in 2017, 11 in 2018, and 21 in 2019. The latter issued none in 2017 and 2018, and 6 in 2019.

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council rose from 16 notices in 2017, to 26 in 2018, but fell sharply to 8 in 2019, its figures show.

Spokespeople for different councils gave similar reasons for the increase: that they’re using the law, as they always have, to move on those in “illegal encampments” – and that there has been an increase in cases.

But “behind each and every stat there’s a story”, said Bernard Joyce, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement. “And the stories that people have are that they find they’re moving to a county and they face extreme hostility from local authorities.”

He points to a lack of suitable accommodation for Travellers – both permanent and transient – and the severely overcrowded conditions that many are living in as reasons why people find themselves on public land and served with notices to move on.

Traveller ethnicity has been recognised now, Joyce says. “You have to now look and say, well how do we now support the indigenous community in Ireland, and support them in a way that supports their nomadical way of life which has been evident in Ireland for hundreds of years.”

The Irish Traveller Movement also wants to see a humanitarian response to those families who might find themselves living in unauthorised bays or sites, he said.

The Irish Traveller Movement has called for an immediate halt of evictions, he says. Councils “should be liaising with families and working with families to try to find what their needs are, and how their needs can be best met”.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said it is currently liaising with different “stakeholders” to look at implementing recommendations made by the Expert Review Group on Traveller Accommodation last year – including those related to trespass and evictions, and the use of “Section 10” notices.

It is “in the process of establishing a Programme Board to drive and oversee the recommendations”, they said, by email.

Why They Are Being Used

Under Section 10 (1) of the Housing Act 1992 – and later amendments – councils can evict Travellers in caravans in three circumstances.

Firstly, if the caravan is parked within five miles of an approved halting site that the housing authority believes could accommodate the Travellers.

Secondly, if the site on which the caravan is currently located is unfit for human habitation, obstructs a public or private amenity or constitutes a health and safety risk – but only if the Traveller can “appropriately be accommodated” on an official halting site.

And thirdly, if the caravan or similar is within one mile of an approved halting site and the council thinks the occupants are causing a nuisance to, or a risk to water supplies or public facilities of any dwellings, or are interfering with the use or enjoyment of private or public facilities, within a one-mile radius.

In this last case – unlike the first two – there’s no obligation on the council to make sure there’s adequate alternative accommodation for those they are moving on.

It’s this last subsection that is mostly used by councils, says Sinead Lucey, a managing solicitor with the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC).

Under that, there’s no obligation on the council to organise alternative accommodation. “They’re simply required to move on, they can be prosecuted if they aren’t,” she says, of those served a notice.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a local authority invoking the first two provisions that would require them to provide alternative accommodation,” says Lucey.

It’s unclear whether the third subsection is ever used for non-Travellers, or just for Travellers. Because it requires the person or family to move further away from, rather than onto a Traveller halting site it could, in theory at least, apply to non-Travellers, says Lucey.

“Although I would say that this almost never happens and most local authorities would regard the power as being specific to the Traveller community,” she says.

The Last Three Years

Councils gave different levels of detail for the reasons behind the notices they’ve issued in the past three years – and why there has been an increase.

South Dublin County Council said they issued them when temporary dwellings were “on council lands”, “on public roads”, “illegally occupying council bays in halting site” or “outside council house”, for example.

The increase is not due to any change in policy and is “reflective of activity in our administrative area”, they said.

Both Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s response and Dublin City Council’s response suggested that they expect these figures to continue to rise.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council issued more notices in 2019 as “there has been an increase in the number of illegal encampments”, so it has reacted accordingly “to remove these unauthorised dwellings”, said a council spokesperson.

While Dublin City Council issued fewer Section 10 notices in 2019 than in previous years, it expects to see an increase, it said, in a document setting out its procedures.

“The current practice by members of the Travelling Community in migrating from different geographical locations is increasing and will result in an increase of Notices to Remove (NTR’s) on a regular basis,” it said.

Joyce, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement, said he thinks this is a wrong-headed response.

“It’s morally wrong to blame individuals or say that we’ve issued these sections because there’s an increase in Travellers coming to our county,” he says.

No other group experiences that level of discrimination, he said. “It is institutionalised discrimination and racism towards one particular group, and that’s the Traveller community and it’s wrong.”

The Wider Context

What the statistics, and the brief breakdowns given by councils, don’t show is a full picture of the deeper underlying reasons why people are being issued with these Section 10 notices, says Joyce.

The main issue, he says, is the lack of adequate accommodation for Travellers. That includes a lack of transient accommodation for families who are nomadic, he says.

He’d expect, if you look at notices, there would be a spike in summer months – when families often travel through Dublin en route to the United Kingdom or to visit relatives in the city.

“You would probably see families who are just moving to the county but are not permanently staying in the county and moving out, but they’re not probably given time even to stay for a number of days without the issue of Section 10,” he said.

(That seasonal increase is the case with the data from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, at least, with all six notices issued in 2019 dating from May, June, and July, although its hard to say for sure what those circumstances were.)

A 1995 government task-force said there should be a network of units with 1,000 transient sites for Travellers throughout Ireland. But there are fewer than 50 – most of which are used for emergency accommodation, says an Irish Traveller Movement submission to Dublin City Council from last year.

They’ve called for a network of sites for families who are travelling, for culturally appropriate spaces for caravans and short-term stays, he says.

“The four local authorities in Dublin have been able to facilitate Camac Valley,” he says. It’s a big caravan park for holiday-makers and travellers with a small “t”, which South Dublin County Council owns and is run by a private operator.

“It’s a massive caravan park,” he says. “At the same time we’re seeing these notices go out to people. The question I have to ask is: why? Why is there no collaboration?”

“Why is there no effort between local authorities to come together to look at what is possible, and work, and to make sure there is adequate safe provision of accommodation for the Traveller community who are nomadic,” says Joyce.

The other issue would be families that are overcrowded. As of 2017, nationally, there were 1,115 Traveller families sharing homes – overcrowded families, he says. That was up from 249 in 2002.

“When overcrowding happens, that becomes an issue in the delivery of accommodation,” he says. People move into caravans, which leaves them open to notices of eviction.

“We know that delivering accommodation and new sites, that’s not coming on stream quick enough, fast enough,” Joyce says.

Even when it does it’s taking years, he says. “By that stage even when the new site and new group-housing scheme comes on, it already hasn’t met the demand that is now there.”

Some of the reasons given by councils for why they have issued notices in the last three years mention notices served on those who are illegally in council bays on halting sites or outside council homes.

“What does that mean? Newly formed young couples who are on a site, put a caravan in?” he says. “We just don’t know. If that is the case then that is another concern as well that you have people being pushed into the homeless services.”

“I think there’s an element of pushing families into homelessness,” he says. But those services aren’t equipped to cater for the families, and Traveller families don’t want to go into homeless services.

“They’re saying, ‘We’re not homeless, but we’re being pushed into this,’” he says. He’s aware of cases where Travellers on sites have been told a caravan’s going to be moved, and that they’ll be made homeless, he says.

“Without any alternative accommodation. We’ve seen that in Clondalkin, and we’ve also seen it in other areas, beside Clondalkin.”

Long-Time Criticisms

Lucey, of FLAC, said they haven’t noticed an increase in people coming to seek legal advice from them because they’ve been served with Section 10 notices.

“But I’m presuming therefore that people are simply moving on and not, either not getting access to legal advice, or not seeking to challenge the notice,” she said.

Said Joyce, of the Irish Traveller Movement: “One of the concerns that we’ve had is giving people due process, to allow them to seek legal advice, to ensure that the section itself has been carried out in the right way.”

In 2016, the European Committee on Social Rights found that Section 10 of the Housing Act violated Article 16 of the European Social Charter.

There were inadequate safeguards for Travellers threatened with eviction, and concern around the lack of a requirement for prior consultation with a family facing eviction.

That the minimum notice period was 24 hours was also a concern, the committee said.

In last year’s Traveller Accommodation Expert Review, the expert group said that it thought councils should have a mechanism within the overall governance of Traveller accommodation to control unauthorised encampments.

But “the unrestricted and unmonitored use of Section 10 notices in circumstances where local authorities are failing to meet accommodation targets under their statutory accommodation programmes is a serious concern to the Expert Group”, the report said.

The impact of Section 10 “needs to be carefully monitored by a central authority”, they said. “The power to serve a Section 10 notice on families who are assessed and awaiting accommodation provision should be restricted.”

The group also recommended that an internal appeals procedure be set up. Families should be able to make formal submissions that councils have to take into account, they said.

Lucey, of FLAC, says from the cases she has dealt with the notices generally give 24 hours to comply. “It’s a minimum of 24 hours but most local authorities will only give you 24 hours,” she says.

Within that 24 hour period, it’s almost impossible to actually seek legal advice, get legal advice – and even more impossible to get to court and actually challenge the Section 10 notice, if you think the section is being invoked unfairly, she said.

A longer minimum notice period – unless there’s a huge issue of urgency around, say, safety – could make it fairer, she says.

In theory, somebody subject to a Section 10 notice might be entitled to legal aid. “But if you’re put on a waiting list of 52 weeks for legal aid, it obviously makes a nonsense in the context of a 24-hour notice,” she says. “So there are lots of different factors.”

Again and Again and Again

Joyce, the director of the Irish Traveller Movement, said that for many, being evicted or threatened with eviction may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“But for Travellers it can be, you know, a regular feature in terms of their life. And I think it is grim and sad in this day and age that this is happening,” he says.

He’s not sure if people realise the consequences when these sections are issued. “The psychological impact that has on a family and children, but also in terms of people who are quite vulnerable already.”

In most cases, families will move on, but in some cases with extremely vulnerable families, they simply have nowhere else they can go, he says – so they will resist.

Not least, because in those cases, they may move to another location, and then be issued with yet another Section 10 notice, he says.

“And it will become repetitive,” says Joyce. “Some families may be issued with the same section again, and then they’ll be sent across the county.”

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Author:

Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

Reader responses

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Mark Connaughton
at 5 February at 23:10

That the councils facilitate a privately-run camp for tourists while also actively displacing some of the most vulnerable in society into homelessness is abhorrent. This prioritisation of profit makes me sick. Racism against travellers in Ireland, on both institutional and personal levels, urgently needs to be examined and dealt with. Evictions must be ended and proper traveller accommodation should be at the top of the list in demands for housing justice. But it's rarely ever mentioned in coverage of the housing crisis. Thank you therefore for this article.

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