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Dublin City Council has built no new Traveller-specific accommodation since its current programme began in 2019, according to a recent review.
The council planned to build 54 new homes under the current Traveller Accommodation Programme 2019 to 2024, including houses and halting bays, but it hasn’t broken ground on any of them so far.
It built none under the last programme either, which ran from 2014 to 2018, says Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently called on the Irish state to ensure that Traveller children have full and equal access to adequate accommodation, says Joyce.
The council is working on designs for 20 homes and halting bays, according to the review which noted that it has also refurbished some Traveller accommodation.
While the council stumbles over its existing targets of 54, that figure is an underestimate of the need in the city.
The council’s official count of Traveller households doesn’t appear to include households living in B&Bs, family hubs or any other type of emergency accommodation.
Shay L’Estrange, coordinator of Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project, says that after years and decades of false promises, people are starting to give up hope. “When I’m talking to communities, there is a sense of desperation.”
The recent review included a number of recommendations, including a suggestion that the council incorporate Traveller accommodation into all its large-scale housing developments going forward.
In 2021, the council counted 872 Traveller families living in the Dublin City Council area in houses and halting sites.
It also counted 185 Traveller households in the Dublin City Council area needing accommodation, and living in cramped conditions sharing with extended family or on basic sites without full services.
Families living in emergency accommodation do not appear on the list, in the review.
L’Estrange says that he raised that issue with the council when it was doing the count because he is aware of Traveller families living in family hubs. Staff said they are counted separately, he says.
Geraldine Dunne, director of Southside Travellers Action Group, says she finds that surprising. Families in emergency accommodation should be included, she says, since the purpose of the count is to work out the need for accommodation.
“They are top priority in terms of need,” says Dunne. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council counts people in emergency accommodation, she says.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about its methodology, submitted last Thursday.
On 31 October 2022, there were 176 households registered as homeless in the Dublin region – so the four local authorities – who had identified that they were Travellers, said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council, last November.
It is likely that there are more than that, said the spokesperson.
The data is self-reported. “As such, some [T]ravellers may choose not to identify their ethnicity when interacting with our services which leads to potential under-counting of these numbers,” said the spokesperson.
In the current Traveller Acommodation Programme drawn up in 2019, the council said that around 9 percent of all homeless families were Travellers.
These days the Irish Traveller Movement estimates that as many as 1 in 5 homeless people – 20 percent – nationally are likely to be Travellers, says Joyce. Travellers only make up around 1 percent of the population.
Ten of the 54 new homes promised in the 2019 to 2024 Traveller Accommodation Programme are supposed to be delivered as part of a redevelopment of Labre Park in Ballyfermot, says L’Estrange.
That project was announced in 1999, he says. Twenty-four years on, residents are naturally skeptical as to whether the redevelopment will ever happen, he says.
The situation is getting worse for Travellers, he says. The recent review shows that the number of Traveller families in hidden homeless situations in Dubin is increasing, he says.
When a family doesn’t have its own tenancy, that family has to double up with extended family members, which the council calls “sharing”.
Traveller families often “share” serviced halting sites, council houses and private rented houses with extended family. “There is a significant increase in the numbers sharing,” says L’Estrange.
The number of Traveller families “sharing” in Dublin City Council area increased from 81 in 2018 to 116 in 2021.
That is hidden homelessness, says L’Estrange, because the family doesn’t have its own home.
The council’s decision not to earmark sites for new Traveller accommodation in the city development plan means the problem will continue to get worse, says L’Estrange. “If you don’t designate space for it, it will never happen.”
The review of the Traveller Accommodation Programme, done by Seán Ó Riordáin, holds 20 recommendations.
Among them: cultural awareness training, identifying lands for Traveller accommodation, and rolling out Traveller-specific accommodation as part of large-scale housing developments.
“All staff, including staff in the wider Council having responsibilities under the TAP should be regular recipients of cultural awareness training and development,” says the review.
The council has started training staff in cultural awareness and that is a welcome development, says L’Estrange.
The council should carry out an assessment of all its lands, including lands in control of the Land Development Agency, to identify opportunities for new Traveller Accommodation, says the review.
“The opportunity to integrate culturally appropriate Traveller accommodation into all suitable Council housing developments should be fully explored including existing Council and Council supported housing proposals (e.g., AHB),” it says.
The council’s housing committee should agree to make that a council policy, says the review.
Joyce of the Irish Traveller Movement, says, though, that the real solution to the council’s failure to deliver is to set up a new authority to build homes for Travellers.
“Dublin City Council’s failure to supply validates the urgent need for a National Traveller Accommodation Authority to establish oversight and address delivery, poor standards and the extended time periods for families in overcrowded and unsafe accommodation,” he said.
To build homes faster, councils will soon be able to develop social and affordable housing schemes on public land without planning permission.
This could pave the way for new Traveller accommodation projects.
“We ask the Minister and Council Managers to ensure Traveller accommodation is prioritised in the new approval process,” said Joyce in January.