At the moment, Dublin City Council’s plan for Traveller housing in the city consists of some extensions to existing sites, and some refurbs of existing homes.
There are no new developments in the plan.
At a special meeting on Monday, called by a group of councillors to force a public discussion on the progress, or lack of progress, in providing homes for Travellers, councillors said they were committed to changing that.
Some councillors at the meeting said progress would be faster if the council set up a new Traveller Accommodation Strategic Policy Committee – as recommended in an expert review in July 2019.
Dublin City Council Housing Manager Brendan Kenny seemed reluctant to change the structures, though.
There is money to build Traveller-specific accommodation and the only problem is a shortage of land, said Kenny.
“We need to look at more radical ways of dealing with that and we are up for that,” he told councillors.
The day after the meeting, by email, Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Travellers Movement, said that “Dublin with the largest population of Travellers is one of worst offenders in not ring-fencing land for Traveller Accommodation.”
“Traveller homelessness in Dublin city will continue to escalate unless it is addressed,” says Joyce.
There are more than 500 Travellers in homeless emergency accommodation in Dublin, he says – and Travellers make up 1 percent of the population, but around 11 percent of the homeless population.
On top of that, there are 144 Traveller families living in overcrowded conditions in Traveller accommodation, according to aDublin City Council report from Monday’s meeting.
The council should establish a specific strategic policy committee to tackle these issues and track progress, said Joyce by email.
Strategic policy committees are forums where councillors, officials, and some associate members meet regularly in public and ask officials what they’ve been doing, and vote on what should be done.
A special Traveller strategic policy committee should “look to set targets, and adequate monitoring across the current 5-year Traveller Accommodation Programme”, said Joyce.
The council could then review and revise its plans in line with the needs of families, he said.
At the moment, councillors, officials, and representative groups work together on what’s called the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC).
Only, that isn’t working, said independent Councillor Anthony Flynn. “There is absolutely no progress being made there.”
The committee isn’t run with the same professionalism as a strategic policy committee, said Flynn. For example, reports aren’t provided to councillors in advance of the meeting.
Independent Councillor John Lyons said the LTACC “does what it says on the tin. It’s a consultative committee.”
A strategic policy committee, on the other hand, is a decision-making body, he said.
“What do we have to do to formally implement that recommendation?” he asked at the meeting.
Kenny, the council’s housing manager, said it is up to the national government to decide whether to disband the LTACC and set up a strategic policy committee instead.
He thought the LTACC was going well, he said. “I think the LTACC has great potential.”
People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin said she favours replacing the LTACC with a strategic policy committee.
In the interim, she suggested that the LTACC meetings should be held in council chambers – once Covid-19 restrictions allow – and should start to publish its minutes.
She also requested that the housing manager start to attend a meeting twice per year.
Kenny said those changes could be implemented immediately and that the LTACC reports should go to the main council meeting for review.
Shay L’Estrange, of the Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project, welcomed the fact that the special meeting took place – and the “suggestion made for better links between the LTACC and the wider council to be created, to track, and ensure accountability”, he said by email.
“When we see new Traveller-specific accommodation built then we will know real progress is being made,” he said.
Not Much Choice?
At the meeting, independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud spoke about how the history of Travellers as a nomadic people in Ireland dates back over a thousand years.
But the national and local government is pursuing an “institutional strategy to corner Travellers”, she said.
By failing to provide adequate Traveller-specific accommodation with running water and decent living conditions, Travellers are left with little real choice but to assimilate, she said.
Mary Hayes, an executive manager with Dublin City Council, said at the meeting that she is conscious that Travellers seeking a council hom e can in theory choose between standard housing and Traveller-specific housing – but in reality there is no new Traveller-specific housing being delivered.
Joyce says that if a Traveller accepts standard social housing, including the HAP scheme, they are no longer on the housing list.
So there is no way to track if they still want to live in Traveller-specific accommodation, he says.
“When Traveller-specific developments are repeatedly delayed, it forces Travellers who wished to live in Traveller-specific accommodation into accepting other forms of accommodation,” he says.
Time for Action
Independent Councillor Christy Burke said he visited a Traveller site in Carrickmines, Co. Wicklow, after ten people lost their lives in a fire there.
“I thought that day that there will be an end now to objections and procrastination,” he says. “But it didn’t happen.”
Several councillors asked why they have never been presented with plans for any new Traveller housing at council meetings.
“We share councillors’ concerns,” said Kenny. “We need to do more.”
Land is scarce in the city, he said, but the council will look at acquisitions for land for Traveller accommodation in all areas.
Kenny said there is no issue with getting money for Traveller accommodation so if councillors work together with city managers and Traveller representatives, the council can deliver new sites.
“We need a united front from councillors and officials,” he said.
Most councillors who spoke at the meeting pledged to back the development of new sites.
“We do need political leadership,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan. “We need to identify the sites, and stand up and vote for those sites and take some of the backlash that is going to be there.”
Said Lord Mayor Hazel Chu of the Green Party: “If we don’t provide fit-for-purpose accommodation to Travellers we are putting a rubber stamp on racism and saying it’s okay.”