Sally Flynn is a residents’ representative for Labre Park, a Traveller accommodation site in Ballyfermot, and a member of Dublin City Council’s consultative committee on Traveller housing.
She doesn’t usually go to the committee meetings, she says, because she doesn’t find them productive. “They talk about progress but there isn’t really any progress, in my opinion,” she says.
Labre Park residents have been waiting for around 21 years for the regeneration of the site, she says, and following sweeping changes to the plans, they no longer believe that it is going to happen.
“There are still families that need to be housed,” she says. “They say the redevelopment is going ahead, but I think it’s all false promises.”
A year ago, councillors called a special meeting to kickstart a discussion on how the council could provide more homes for Travellers, many of whom are homeless or living in overcrowded sites in bad conditions, and promising a renewed focus to move forward faster.
Since then, some councillors and Traveller representatives say little has changed.
They say that the council has not identified any new sites for Traveller-specific housing or implemented a recommendation by an expert review to establish a strategic policy committee (SPC) specifically for Traveller housing, which proponents say would bring greater accountability.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said it’s up to the council to decide if it wants to establish a new strategic policy committee.
Changing the Committee
The consultative committee meetings go into details of issues, like illegal dumping, in each Traveller site, says Flynn.
“When you are at them, they are saying that Travellers are doing this and that,” she says. “It’s not a nice environment really.”
Traveller representatives would be more likely to attend the meetings “if you were getting stuff done, being proactive really”, she says.
If progress was being made on big issues like housing, she would go, she says, but the discussions seem to go around in circles.
“For me, it’s like a vicious circle,” she says. “There is responsibility for the Travellers but there is responsibility for Dublin City Council too.”
This week, councillors and Traveller representatives who sit on the committee – officially called the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC) – said there hasn’t been much progress since that big special meeting.
“The unfortunate thing is that nothing has really changed in the last 12 months,” says Shay L’Estrange, coordinator of Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project.
“We still have a lot of outstanding issues in relation to living conditions of the Traveller community,” he says. “We are continually battling with Dublin City Council to improve on these issues.”
Says independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud: “Nothing is happening, it’s worse.”
The council should set up a strategic policy committee (SPC) specifically for Traveller housing, she says, which would mean more structure, a secretary taking minutes and more accountability.
Managers of other council departments would be obliged to attend. Councillors have been asking for a representative of the council’s waste department to attend an LTACC meeting for over a year, says Nicoullaud, but they haven’t shown up.
“How can we talk waste if they are not there?” she says. “We are going around in circles.”
Last year, the council’s housing manager, Brendan Kenny, said, in response to a question from independent Councillor John Lyons, that it is up to the national government to decide whether to disband the LTACC and set up an SPC.
Last week, though, a spokesperson for the Department of Housing said that the council can go ahead and set up an SPC if it wants. “Yes, Local Authorities can establish SPCs, as outlined by the Local Government Act 2001.”
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, says, “Since LTACCs were established in 2000 there has been no systematic monitoring of their functioning or centralised oversight.”
A review is needed and that “could now be located under a national Traveller accommodation authority”, he says.
Attendance at LTACC meetings is low. Minutes from three meetings last year show a long list of apologies.
Professional Traveller representatives, some council officials and some councillors have regularly attended meetings.
However some other councillors rarely turn up, the former council housing manager, Brendan Kenny, said at the special meeting that he would start attending the LTACC but didn’t go or send apologies to meetings in March and September, and some of the volunteer Traveller representatives (residents’ representatives) are also not attending.
In September 2021, the minutes noted that some volunteer Traveller representatives “would like to attend but are struggling to use apps like Zoom”.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that the council fully supports the LTACC process. “We have received no complaints regarding their organisation or activities,” she says.
There has been an issue with attendance by volunteer Traveller representatives, which the council is working to resolve, she says.
Hazel De Nortúin, a People Before Profit councillor, says the council is going to provide equipment to allow Traveller representatives to join the meetings online, which she hopes will help increase attendance.
Meeting minutes from March and December 2021 say the council will introduce a scheme so that the volunteer representatives can claim expenses for travel for meetings that go ahead in person.
Says Joyce: “All LTACCs should be underpinned by a values-led approach to ensure there is a shared understanding and vision by its members, which begins with eradicating obstacles for Travellers to participate.”
At the special meeting a year ago, councillors and council officials committed to identify new sites for Traveller-specific accommodation in the city.
Many, but not all, Travellers 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 Travellers’ shared identity, says the Irish Traveller Movement website.
L’Estrange, of Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project, says he hasn’t heard of any new sites being developed for Traveller-specific accommodation. When Travellers do get offers it is only for “settled housing”, he says.
“There is no indication that DCC will be providing any land for Traveller-specific accommodation,” he says.
The council’s Traveller Accommodation Unit is also short-staffed, says L’Estrange. “They haven’t got the staff they need to do the work.”
The council spokesperson says that identifying new sites for Traveller-specific housing is an objective for the council for 2022.
L’Estrange says the council should build new Traveller-specific homes as part of each large council development going forward.
Too often, the sites that are used for Traveller housing are in industrial estates or other unsuitable locations, he says.
Other Types of Homes, and Fixes
In 2021, Dublin City Council allocated 19 standard homes to Travellers and bought two homes for existing tenants, says the council spokesperson.
The council also replaced 17 mobile homes, under an emergency caravan-replacement scheme, she said.
Dublin City Council secured planning permission for four new homes in the Avila Group Housing Scheme in 2021, she says.
The council also carried out refurbishment works at St Joseph’s Park, a Traveller accommodation site in Finglas and St Margaret’s Park, a Traveller accommodation site in Ballymun. It also provided electricity and refurbishment to St Dominic’s Park, Tara Lawns halting site in Coolock, says the spokesperson by email.
In July 2021 the council reported that it was in the process of extending electricity to 48 families, and sanitation units also to some of those.
Going in Circles
Progressing Traveller housing projects is different from other housing projects, says De Nortúin. The whole process seems to go around in circles, she says.
It appears to her, she says, that plans for Traveller housing only ever progress to a certain point but then someone changes their mind about the plans.
It’s not just big construction projects either: it is a constant struggle to even get basic amenities provided, she says, like functioning sanitation units.
“Why has this, all of a sudden, stopped?” says De Nortúin. “You constantly have to keep going back.”
There has been change on one front. In March 2021 the council agreed to stop referring to those people living on sites, who don’t have council authorisation to do so, as “illegal”.
The minutes show that Pat Teehan, assistant senior executive officer at Dublin City Council,** **said that this terminology is contained in national legislation.
Councillors present also agreed to write to TDs to request that they change the language in the legislation.