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Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) (No. 2) Bill, 2001: Report and Final Stages.

Wednesday, 27 March 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 551 No. 3

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An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison Zoom on Séamus Pattison Amendment No. 1 is consequential on Amendment No. 16. Amendments Nos. 1 and 16 are alternatives to Amendments Nos. 11 to 15, inclusive. Amendments Nos. 11 to 15, inclusive, form a composite proposal. We will discuss Amendments Nos. 1 and 11 to 16, inclusive, together by agreement. Amendment No. 1 does not arise from Committee Stage and must be recommitted.

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 1.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. D. Wallace): Information on Dan Wallace Zoom on Dan Wallace I move amendment No. 1:

In page 5, lines 24 to 26, to delete “THE DUBLIN DOCKLANDS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY ACT, 1997 and THE PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT ACT, 2000” and substitute “THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE (PUBLIC ORDER) ACT, 1994, AND THE DUBLIN DOCKLANDS DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY ACT, 1997”.

I thank my colleagues across the floor of the House for their co-operation in the recommittal to Committee Stage of this Bill in respect of this amendment for the purpose of dealing with the very important issue of unauthorised temporary dwellings. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Molloy, indicated on Committee Stage that a further Government amendment would be introduced on Report Stage in relation to unauthorised encampments. Having given detailed consideration to the issues involved, the Government has decided that the most appropriate approach is to provide, by way of amendments to [583] this Bill, for the insertion of new provisions in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, to deal with such incidents. Amendment No. 1 relates to the Long Title of the Bill, which is being changed to take account of Report Stage amendments to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, and to take account of the withdrawal on Committee Stage of an amendment to the Planning and Development Act, 2000.

Official amendment No. 16 provides for the insertion of a new part in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, to provide for a prohibition on any person's entering and occupying land without the owner's consent where such entry or occupation is likely to damage the land substantially, with associated offences and penalties. The new provisions prohibit any person, without the consent of the owner of the land, to enter or occupy the land or to bring any object onto such land where it is likely to damage the land substantially or prejudicially affect any amenity to do with the land or prevent anyone entitled to use the land or any amenity associated with it from making reasonable use of the land or the amenity or otherwise render the land or amenity or the lawful use of the land or amenity unsanitary or unsafe or substantially interfere with the land or amenity or the lawful use of the land or amenity.

There is also provision that where a member of the Garda Síochána has reason to believe that a person is committing or has committed an offence under this section, the member may demand of the person his or her name and address and may direct the person to leave the land and to remove any object from the land which is owned or under the control of the person. The member of the Garda Síochána will be required to inform the person of the nature of the offence in which the person is suspected of having been involved and the statutory consequences of failing to comply with a demand or direction.

It will be an offence, under the new part, for a person to fail to give his or her name and address to a garda or give a false or misleading name or address or fail to comply with a direction from a garda. Provision is also made for a member of An Garda Síochána to arrest, without warrant, a person committing an offence under the new provision. In the event of the owner of a temporary dwelling or other object not removing that object from the land at the request of a garda, the member concerned may remove or cause to be removed the object from the land in question and arrange for its storage. Any object removed by a garda under this provision will be returned to the person claiming it upon his or her making a declaration in writing that he or she is the owner of the object or is authorised by the owner to claim it or is otherwise entitled to claim it for a reason specified by the person.

At the discretion of the Garda Commissioner, the person claiming possession of the object may be required to pay the amount of any expenditure reasonably incurred in removing and storing the [584] object. The commissioner will be entitled to sell or dispose of an object removed and stored under this provision if it is not claimed and removed within one month of the date on which a notice was served on the owner. The net proceeds of the sale, having deducted the expenditure incurred for its removal, storage and sale, may be returned to the owner. The penalties for a person on summary conviction of offences under this section are a fine of up to €3,000 or a term of imprisonment of up to one month or both.

I ask the House to accept this amendment which provides an effective mechanism to deal with the type of large-scale unauthorised encampments which have emerged in the past year or two.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I oppose these amendments on a number of grounds. I oppose the way they are being introduced and the manner in which it is proposed to rush them through the House today.

Problems are being encountered, particularly during the summer months, with very large encampments of what are called “Traveller traders” and the occupation of public spaces, football fields and so on. There are also problems regarding the occupation, in some cases, of private land and payments being demanded before people leave that land. In fairness to everybody concerned, those problems must be addressed.

The question arises as to whether we should address those problems by way of additional legislation. Many of the difficulties arise because insufficient accommodation has been provided for Travellers. The Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998, provided for the adoption by local authorities of five year plans to accommodate Travellers within their catchment area. There was such a degree of urgency about that legislation that special provision was made that if elected members of local authorities did not agree, within six months, to the adoption of a Traveller accommodation plan, the plan could be made by the county manager. A plan was, in all cases, made by elected members of local authorities. That legislation was to provide for sufficient Traveller accommodation within a five year timeframe. The Act was passed in 1998. We have now reached the latter end of that timeframe. Of the 2,200 purpose provided Traveller accommodation places on halting sites or group housing schemes, only a little over 100 have been provided to date. The principal problem of illegal or unauthorised Traveller encampments remains due to the provision of insufficient accommodation, notwithstanding the passing of the required legislation and the fact that local authorities adopted the Traveller accommodation plans. That, if anything, should demonstrate the difference between passing legislation, adopting plans on paper and implementing them. We can pass all the legislation we like – it may look very well politically for the Government sponsoring the legislation – but how are we to enforce it? [585] Legislation exists to deal with unauthorised encampments but it is not being enforced as will be the case with this legislation. It is sad, at a time when we have the worst housing crisis in the history of this State, that the biggest amendment being made to this legislation deals with unauthorised Traveller encampments.

Where is the Minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal who authored this amendment? Why is he not in the House to take this Bill? Perhaps there is a good reason for his absence but the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, did not inform the House of it. This is the second time in two weeks that the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, has not turned up in the House to take this Bill for which he is responsible. I would like to hear why he is not present.

What we have before us is effectively new legislation. Amendment No. 1, which is, purportedly, an amendment to the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2001, will amend the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994. The amendment runs to seven pages, complete with definitions, offences and so on. It is new legislation and should have been introduced separately. If this amendment is to amend the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, 2001, it should have been circulated before yesterday. This Bill was published last December. If the Government was so exercised about this issue, it had three months within which to circulate its intention to introduce this amending legislation. It is remarkable and unacceptable that an amendment to introduce a major change in our law as proposed today was not circulated to Members until the eleventh hour. It is also remarkable that this proposal was not considered by the consultative committees set up by this Government to deal with Traveller accommodation.

I would like to read into the record comments made jointly by Pavee Point, the Irish Travellers' Movement and the National Traveller Women's Forum in a document circulated to us today:

Traveller organisations have worked with the State and other social partners on the monitoring committee for the report of the task force on the Travelling community. As part of this work, and at the request of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a sub-committee was established to look at the issues raised by illegal encampments and the desire by members of the settled community to introduce tougher laws to deal with these issues. This committee met seven times and is scheduled to present its report shortly. Yet the committee itself was not informed of the inclusion of any changes to the '98 Act in the current Bill, while Traveller representatives were not informed and then misinformed of this development.

I spoke yesterday to representatives of Traveller organisations who told me they had no knowledge this proposal was to be introduced. They were not consulted or informed about it and when they raised questions as to whether some[586] thing like this was contemplated they were, I am told, misinformed. There was no discussion or consultation on this amendment with representative organisations or the national Traveller consultative committee, which met last week and was not informed about it. There was also no consultation with the monitoring group established under the report of the task force on Traveller accommodation, which has met several times.

Was the Garda consulted about the introduction of this legislation, because the amendment provides for arrest without warrant in certain circumstances? What discussions took place with the Garda about the likely effect of this measure in circumstances where a large number of caravans pull into a public park? Will gardaí be instructed to arrest without warrant everybody in that encampment? What are the implications of that provision?

The amendment has been tabled to address a specific problem related to Traveller encampments but it has wider implications because for the first time it will criminalise trespass, which had previously been a civil matter. For example, let us take an industrial dispute which results in a factory closure. If the workers decide to occupy the factory and its grounds, the amendment will criminalise that activity. Was it discussed with the social partners? Were trade unions consulted about the implications of the amendment in regard to industrial disputes?

The amendment has implications, for example, in disputes about fishing rights. One definition of “land” in the amendment describes it as “land covered by water”. There have been, and continue to be, disputes between angling clubs and landowners about access to fishing rights. On a previous occasion, which was referred to by Deputy Stagg on the Order of Business, legislation was rushed through the House which generated considerable anger among angling clubs. Angling clubs and individual anglers are being denied access to rivers and lakes by landowners who believe that if they prevent them from crossing their land, they can claim ownership to the fishing rights. This legislation will be in the eye of a storm. Were angling clubs consulted about the implications of the amendment for them?

What is being proposed has enormous implications. I recall the discussions we had in the House in regard to occupiers' liability and the question of entry onto property owned by somebody else and whether one is entitled to be on property or whether trespass applies. It is a broad issue, which should not be dealt with by rushing legislation through the House by way of guillotine during the last few days of the Dáil before an election.

I accept there is a problem and I do not stand over or support the occupation of public grounds or amenities by anybody nor do I, or will I, support destruction of and damage to public amenities. I also accept that arising from incidents that have been experienced in recent summers, there is a need to address this issue but that must be [587] done in a considered way, not through rushed legislation which has wide implications and which will blow up in the Government's face.

This legislation is being introduced with May in mind rather than June, July and August, when this problem arises in practice. The Government can pass the legislation today and flog it around the country in May on the basis that it has done something to address the problem but when it comes to July and August when this problem is a reality in whatever public park, the legislation will not be enforceable. The people and communities who reside in those areas will have been misled by a Government which is introducing legislation more with an eye on the general election than addressing the real problem.

Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood Zoom on Chris Flood We are discussing legislation which will have a potentially significant impact on the Traveller community. I am disappointed the legislation is being introduced without corresponding progress on accommodation for the Traveller community, which is unfortunate. I accept, as Deputy Gilmore said, that there have been incidents over the past year and prior to that, where certain lands have been the subject of unauthorised entry but one must understand the Traveller community in order to investigate the reasons for these incidents.

One of the reasons for increasingly large unauthorised encampments in different locations, as happened last summer, is the Traveller community feels more oppressed and threatened and this comes back to the old story of protection in numbers. Travellers have been subject to various negative actions in the past on the part of the settled community. For example, there have been marches by large numbers of settled people on Traveller encampments. When such a march takes place against three or four families, they feel threatened by the numbers protesting. That is a reason for the increase in the size of encampments.

The other reason is locations that were traditionally available to the Traveller community such as road reservations and so on are no longer available because the roads have been developed or the sites have been sealed off using monstrous boulders which have signs on them reading “Travellers, Keep out”. The space available to the Traveller community to exercise its nomadism is increasingly drying up and Travellers are compelled to take action which they never took previously. Travellers never occupied public amenities. This is a new phenomenon for the reasons I outlined.

This issue can be set against the background of what was set out in the excellent report on the Traveller community. It is sad that many of the recommendations, though not all, have not been implemented. A glaring example of this is in the area of accommodation.

As legislators, we have a duty to seek to ensure the provision of accommodation for the Traveller [588] community because we agreed to that when we accepted the report. There are still 1,200 Traveller families on the side of the road today with nowhere to go and no facilities. Only 100 additional units of accommodation have been provided since the report was published in 1995. This legislation appears to deal with an issue that was of concern to people in the recent past but it neglects the crucial issue of the provision of proper accommodation.

In local authorities throughout the State, with some honourable exceptions, the responsibilities that should have been discharged by now in the provision of significant numbers of proper accommodation for the Travelling community have not been met. One of the many reasons for that is the reluctance of local authorities, which include elected members of all political parties, to get behind accommodation programmes in their respective areas and take decisions that will ultimately do away with the necessity to introduce legislation of this nature.

Nowhere is this more apparent than south County Dublin, especially in Tallaght and Clondalkin. Many programmes have been introduced for the provision of accommodation but their implementation has been very slow. In 1985-86, there was a programme to provide two lots of accommodation in each of 15 electoral areas, with one five family unit along the Greenhills Road leading to Tallaght. Only now, 17 years later, has the construction of the accommodation commenced. If we look at the programmes that were adopted with a great deal of media attention, and then look at what was implemented, it is deeply disappointing because so little progress has been made. Until we provide proper levels of accommodation we will always be confronted with the unfortunate necessity for members of the Travelling community to occupy whatever space is available to them. They cannot disappear into thin air. That is what we expect them to do if we cut off the traditional sites they have used for accommodation in the past while waiting for permanent accommodation to be provided.

Many of the sufferings of the Traveller community are a result of the failure to provide accommodation. There is a 12 year differential in the life expectancy of Traveller adults compared with members of the settled community, with many not living beyond 50. Travellers are committed to their way of life; this is not ideological, it is the tradition they have inherited down through the generations. There is an arrogance on the part of the settled community in saying that we can deal with this issue by putting Travellers into houses. It would be comparable to saying to every Member of this House that he or she must live in a tent or caravan. Most of us would find such a prospect appalling. We, however, in the settled community are inclined to say to the Travelling community at public meetings that we will give them houses. It does not suit their way of life, and they do not pursue that for ideological reasons, but because it is who they are.

[589]Everyone presenting themselves for election in the general election should be warned that if they get on the anti-Traveller bandwagon, they will get very little support at the ballot box. In the early 1980s in Tallaght, there were horrific marches against members of the Travelling community, and terrible things were said and done to Travellers. Two candidates stood in a general election on an anti-Traveller ticket and Nan Joyce, a Traveller, also stood. Nan Joyce received more first preferences than both the anti-Traveller candidates combined. Articulate people at public meetings who speak out against Travellers and give reasons why they cannot be accommodated in a particular place might give the impression that everyone in the hall takes that position. In the privacy of their own homes, however, people make a different choice. Any public representative climbing on the bandwagon of anti-Traveller sentiment will be sorely disappointed if they are looking for a reward at the ballot box.

The legislation we are discussing contains issues that are in doubt. The definition of land refers to open space, car parks, playing fields or other spaces provided for recreational, community or conservation purposes. It does not say the lands have to be developed and already available. In the growing urban landscape, lands can be reserved for many years for an ultimate purpose, such as the provision of playing fields, open space or car parks. In the meantime they lie fallow, unused and unprotected, and have frequently been used in the past by the Travelling community because nothing else was available to them. Does this legislation apply if an area has not been developed for its intended purpose?

This legislation, taken separately from the accommodation issue, will not help matters. Travellers still have to occupy some space because there are 1,200 families on the side of the road with nowhere to go. There are also several hundred families on what we loosely describe as temporary halting sites. These sites deteriorate and frequently do not receive the attention they should from the local authority in terms of upkeep and maintenance. Travellers reach a point where they can no longer live on them and must take to the road. This group must be added when trying to estimate the total number of Travellers on the move.

Many other issues and difficulties affecting Travellers, including poor health and poor access to health care and education at all levels, emanate from the failure to provide accommodation. Very few Traveller children are engaged in second level education and to the best of my knowledge fewer than three of them are in third level education. The inability of Travellers to avail of their entitlement to be involved in local communities also stems from the lack of accommodation. The difficulty with the amendment is that it would have been more appropriate for the Minister to wait until the other half of the accommodation issue had been addressed before introducing this type of legislation.

[590]We need to keep faith with the rights of Travellers with regard to accommodation. This can be done only by ensuring it is provided in the numbers required. The background to the amendment is that the transient sites have not been provided in the numbers the 1995 task force report suggested were required to meet the needs of Travellers. Had this occurred, the legislation would be unnecessary.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Fine Gael Party supports the legislation. I listened very carefully to the comments of the three speakers, particularly those of Deputy Flood, whose approach to this issue I have always admired. He is very brave and genuinely motivated by the best interests of Travellers. However, the matters he raised and the issue the legislation tries to address are two different matters. One of the reasons it has taken the Government so long to accept there is a problem is it did not want to be seen to oppose the accommodation of Travellers. The legislation is not about the accommodation of Travellers, but addresses a practical problem, the relatively new phenomenon of Travellers who have accommodation moving elsewhere to carry out business and, for the most part, engaging in appalling degradation of the environment by dumping the detritus of their businesses on public land and amenities.

I wish to address a number of issues, particularly those raised by Deputy Gilmore. While I disagree with much of what he said, I agree we should not be passing very important legislation in what is, essentially, two hours. I saw the legislation for the first time this morning. As Deputy Gilmore stated, it is possible that unforeseen problems will arise as a result of flaws in it and we will either rue its introduction or at least be forced to revisit it. As a general principle, we should not introduce and enact legislation on the same day except in extraordinary circumstances.

This may be a crisis in many areas, but the reality is that it has been a crisis for a very long time and we had considerable notice of the problem. For example, I published legislation on the issue last October, which offered us many opportunities to address the matter in recent months. I regret the way in which we are going about it. Without rehashing the discussions in which we all participated over the airwaves and in various public meetings in recent years, I believe the legislation is absolutely necessary.

I do not agree that consultation is necessary. The legislation specifically deals with trespass on private and public land. If I – or any member of the public – was to set up a business on another person's land or front garden or the local football pitch, I would not be entitled to have a committee established to consult on whether it is acceptable to legislate against my actions. It is completely unacceptable that anybody, no matter how deprived, can move onto someone else's land, destroy it and use it as a location for his or her business or move on to football pitches which [591] have been provided either at public expense or, more often, at great local expense and into which the local community has put an enormous amount of work and effort.

Deputy Gilmore questioned the need for additional legislation given that we already have legislation on this matter. This is not the case and the fact that certain legislation is not enforced is not the root of the problem. If there was legislation to deal with the circumstances on the River Dodder and the many other circumstances which have arisen, it would have been used. This legislation is necessary.

On enforcement, while I accept Deputy Gilmore's point that it would be extremely difficult to equip the Garda to move in against 200 caravans, move them on and arrest all 200 families, this is not what is envisaged. If one takes action against one family, it will act as a deterrent. The purpose of introducing this legislation and all other legislation that seeks to control behaviour is to change public behaviour. While I do not look forward to or anticipate Traveller families being deprived of their homes or thrown in jail, a balance must be struck between the tolerance we must all show to a totally deprived section of the community and the respect that must be shown to the rest of the community, which is entitled to the use of amenities. It is extraordinary to argue that the legislation is not enforceable. If that is the case, what are we doing here? We might as well throw up our hands and leave on the basis that the country is ungovernable because laws cannot be enforced against one section of the community which is outside the law. This is not a valid argument. I would be very worried if one could not enforce reasonable laws to protect public amenities and private land.

The Deputy described these sites as a summer problem and, as such, it will not become obvious that the legislation cannot be enforced until then. They are a year round problem. The notion that Travellers travel only in summer just as the rest of us like to holiday in summer does not apply in this case. This year-round trading is happening in three locations in my constituency. In one case a public open space which was reinstated at the expense of the residents some weeks ago has now been ploughed up and occupied by Travellers trading in the area. The other two areas are roadside locations which will not be covered by this legislation but which are being used by Travellers to dump rubbish – not domestic rubbish but rubbish from their businesses, which are in competition with legitimate business people.

Several things are happening. One is the complete destruction of the urban environment by a series of unauthorised encampments by trader Travellers who seem to have absolutely no regard for the rights of others or the peace of mind or sensitivities of local populations, no matter what the age or vulnerability of those populations. We are also being forced ourselves to destroy the few areas of open space and greenery which are left [592] by piling mounds of soil and building bollards. Why would we do that to our environment when simple legislation such as this could protect those spaces for the public?

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins (Dublin West): Where are they going to go when they are thrown out?

Acting Chairman (Mr. Briscoe): Information on Ben Briscoe Zoom on Ben Briscoe Allow Deputy Mitchell to continue without interruption.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I hope they can go back to the sites provided for them.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins  (Dublin West): There are 1,000—

Acting Chairman: Deputy Mitchell without interruption.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell This legislation is not aimed at Travellers in genuine need of accommodation. It is aimed at a particular problem which is relatively new but which is growing and causing huge distress in communities it affects. This never happened in the past. I agree with Deputy Flood when he says that in many areas where Travellers traditionally camped they caused no great annoyance to local communities for the most part. There might have been a minor public health problem for a while but then they would move on and, while it might be going a bit far to say they were welcomed, they were tolerated and not interfered with. There was no huge outcry. This new phenomenon is caused by people who are at least as well off as the public on whom they are visiting their abominations. There is no justification for suggesting we continue to tolerate this. I seek clarification as to whether the legislation applies to encampments on privately owned land and that it is not just a matter of public open spaces.

I note the legislation does not apply to public roads and I understand why. As my colleague, Deputy Higgins, pointed out, of course Travellers must have somewhere to live if permanent accommodation has not been provided for them. It is perfectly reasonable that until such accommodation has been provided they must have somewhere they can park legally. Members of the public will regret that such areas are not included because this legislation will make no difference to two situations involving Travellers in my area but I can see why the roadside is excluded until permanent accommodation is provided for everybody.

Deputy Flood referred to people assuming there is electoral advantage in taking an anti-Traveller approach. I agree with him that there are no votes in it and anyone taking such a position would be very stupid. In spite of the many fiery meetings I have attended about Travellers, the vast majority of decent people want to see Travellers accommodated. They might not be terribly excited about having Travellers accommodated right next door but that is as much the fault [593] of the local authority as that of the residents. Local authorities have failed in many cases to provide quality accommodation, if they provided it at all, or to enforce the litter laws or provide the cleaning services they would to other communities. I agree with Deputy Flood that the vast majority of people want Travellers accommodated.

One of the tragedies we have seen over the last few years is that public attitudes have definitely hardened against the Traveller community as a whole. It is getting more and more difficult to persuade even the most well-disposed communities that permanent, decent Traveller accommodation is absolutely essential and that we must all play our part in ensuring such accommodation is provided.

I hope there will be a new moral imperative for all of us – councillors, local authorities and so on – now we have been given protection by this strengthened legislation, although I have some problems with the protection of the one mile zone. This amendment will strengthen the hand of the gardaí in dealing with the kinds of problems we have seen. We can offer certain guarantees to the public – that there are enforceable laws which can protect their amenities and will ensure that saying “yes” to five or ten bays will not mean they also have to be subjected to problems. That is happening in Dublin, particularly around the Dodder, where a very successful halting site was accepted by the community. They still had their football pitches and parks destroyed. Now that we can give this sort of protection to the public, I hope councils and councillors will recognise their responsibility to acknowledge that those hundreds of Travellers in genuine need of accommodation will now stand a better chance of being accommodated. Controls are absolutely necessary to stop those Travellers who are not in need of accommodation and who are not deprived in any way from destroying the environment for everyone, including other Travellers.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche Zoom on Dick Roche I was very taken by the sincerity of the last two contributions, which is not to criticise other speakers. I was not present for all of Deputy Gilmore's contribution although I did hear the latter part and will be disagreeing with some points. If ever a matter needed to be debated urgently and in a sincere and focused way, this is it. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, for introducing this legislation.

I am particularly happy with this amendment for a variety of reasons. Many of the constituents who call to my clinics are Travellers and I agree with Deputy Mitchell that they have suffered incredibly because of the actions of a very small number. Deputies Flood and Gilmore referred to rights and of course they are correct. The members of any minority in our society must have rights and those rights must be vindicated and supported in every way by our society.

However, it is a hallmark of democracy that [594] rights are balanced with responsibilities. We cannot gainsay that there is a small minority of that minority who are behaving, as Deputy Mitchell correctly said, in a way which is reckless and careless of the rights of society as a whole. As it happens, this amendment follows the precise lines I suggested last October when Deputy Olivia Mitchell introduced her Bill in correspondence with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Although Deputy Gilmore is correct in his statement that trespass has always been a civil matter, the reality, as Deputy Mitchell pointed out in her Private Members' Bill, is that our trespass laws are woefully inadequate.

A young mother in the Woodlands area of Greystones, who I regard as liberal and tolerant, contacted me recently to express some concerns about a park and ride facility which cost £800,000. It has been invaded by a small group which has decided to make a statement about the superiority of its rights over those of the adjoining community. I do not suggest that Deputy Gilmore or his party condones the fact that the group has systematically destroyed a public amenity. I would blame the local authority if those involved were poor or homeless, but they are not. As Deputy Olivia Mitchell said, this relatively new problem has arisen, in many instances, when people have used public or private lands for private gain. They operate unlicensed businesses, which are not within the tax system, on these lands and dump waste material where they wish and how they wish.

I was prompted to write to the Minister at some length on this issue last year following an ugly set of incidents in the Newcastle and Kilcoole areas of north east Wicklow. Deputy Gilmore may be aware of the events which were condemned by representatives of all political parties. A small group of people moved on to private property, including sites where homes were being built. When they were approached by the landowners, they said they had nowhere to go and pointed out that they could rent land elsewhere if they were given £1,000. They were simply trying to extract money with menaces. The Garda Síochána in the area, with whom I have had correspondence, were unable to deal with the problems, an experience shared by their colleagues in Greystones, Bray and Shankill. As we all know, the law on trespass places huge pressure on landowners to exert their legal rights, which should not be the case. I proposed to the Minister that the onus of proof should be reversed so that those who enter private property or public amenities have to demonstrate that they have a legal right to occupy the land, or else face being moved on. This proposal is, in effect, the basis of this Bill.

This is not a draconian anti-Traveller Bill and it should not be portrayed as such. Those who cause difficulties are a minority of a minority. I do not wish to be condemnatory of Traveller organisations, as I have a good relationship with them, but they have been too silent on this issue. They have failed to address what I believe has [595] been a betrayal. A single house on the Murrough, outside Wicklow town, has been surrounded by a small group for many years. Gardaí feel they cannot be moved on and the home owner has decided to live elsewhere in the town. Whatever the details behind this case, it should not happen that a home owner should have to move.

I accept the sincerity of contributions, particularly that of Deputy Flood. The culture and lifestyles of Travellers are being challenged by a changing society, just as ways of life enjoyed by the settled community for many years are being challenged. The type of situations we have seen cannot be condoned.

Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood Zoom on Chris Flood We are talking about assimilation.

Mr. Roche: Information on Dick Roche Zoom on Dick Roche I agree with the Deputy about assimilation and the rights of a minority culture, but that does not give people rights which are superior to the rights of others. There has to be a balance of rights.

I do not agree with Deputy Gilmore's suggestion that this may cause industrial relations problems. He is correct in saying that it would be difficult to enforce the law if a sector of the community decided to invade a property en masse, but that cannot be used as an excuse for not legislating. The reality we have faced for some time is that a minority within the Traveller community, which itself is a minority, has behaved in a reckless manner without concern for the rights of others.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell was correct to say that something beneficial will come out of this if the issue of the invasion of private property, which has been a distraction in recent times, is removed from the political agenda. Perhaps Deputy Flood is correct to say that we could legislate in a different manner and that both sides of the issue could be addressed if we had more time, but as Deputy Mitchell pointed out, this Bill is focused on one item only, namely the deficiency in the operation of our trespass laws. It is a general Bill which applies to all and is not aimed at any particular social group. It will give powers to the Garda which it does not possess at present and a huge onus will be removed from the private individual landowner.

I know an elderly couple who returned to this country from Zimbabwe a number of years ago. They bought an idyllic property and received planning permission from Wicklow County Council, which is quite difficult to get, for the construction of a house for one of their children on an adjoining site. The property was invaded by a group of five people, however, as soon as the hedgerows were removed. Although the group is well known and has done this on many occasions, the Garda Síochána was incapable of taking any effective action. I cannot criticise the desire of gardaí to address the problem, but there was no effective action they could take. The retired couple had to take action if the trespassers were to [596] be removed, but they did not have the £4,000 or £8,000 it takes to get an injunction. We cannot allow law-abiding citizens and taxpayers who respect the rights of others to remain in such a powerless position, where all the pressure falls on them. I know the couple involved and I can say they are more than accepting of the rights of the Traveller community.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell adverted to a huge controversy some years ago at the halting site in Silverbridge, on the outskirts of Bray. When the facility, which is built to the highest standards, was under construction the local community was guaranteed that it would not face trespass problems. Such problems have arisen again and again, however, in the adjoining areas such as the Upper Dargle Road and Old Fassaroe. A great deal of damage has been done by the development of ad hoc halting sites near tolerant communities which were quite prepared to experiment and to live and let live. The residents of such areas feel they have been betrayed, an experience which has been shared elsewhere and which has been encountered by all Deputies in their communities.

This is not a draconian Bill. I agree it may have been better if it had been introduced earlier, as I do not like legislation to be introduced on an emergency basis. Laws made in haste are often grieved afterwards. Deputy Olivia Mitchell said this problem has been accumulating in recent years and I feel it has reached crisis proportions in certain areas. This Bill responds modestly to the matter by transferring the onus of proof, in effect, from the small private land owner to the State. I have asked the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace and the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to make sure this Bill protects the individual private citizen, who has the least power. This changes the onus of action from the individual citizen to the State. Individuals like my constituents in Newcastle had their properties invaded – let us not be mealy-mouthed about it – by people who wanted to extract money from them. No Member would condone that nor would any of the Traveller organisations but they should have been more outspoken in their criticism. That was not happening. As one businessman said to me, he could either spend £8,000 and go to the courts not knowing what would happen or give these people £2,000 to get off his property. That is a dilemma that no society should afford to law-abiding citizens. That is what this measure is aimed at. It is not a draconian measure that has any focus outside people who wilfully break the law, wilfully trespass on property and wilfully damage public amenities. I cannot believe that the vast majority of members of the Travelling community would support the type of grievous action being taken by a minority.

This legislation is welcome. I agree with the general view that it would be better if the legislation were introduced in more normal circumstances. This Dáil is not drawing its last gasp, it is drawing its penultimate gasp. We would betray those we are here to represent if we allowed the [597] current situation to continue into the summer. I hope the introduction of this legislation will not be seen as a cynical effort because it is not. I made these same proposals last October having been much impressed by the Private Members' legislation introduced by Deputy Mitchell. I would hope that, rather than criticise the issue, we will improve it.

I commend this legislation, particularly this provision, and am grateful for the opportunity to acknowledge the role played by the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, in bringing the legislation forward.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I oppose in the strongest terms amendments Nos. 11 to 15 in the name of Deputy Mitchell and amendments Nos. 1 and 16 in the name of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. We are being asked to pass very substantial amendments which amount to a major new Bill and which have far reaching implications for civil rights. None of this was in the original Bill, nor was it published, to my knowledge, to accommodate an informed debate. There had been no signalling of the Minister's amendments prior to this morning. Yet the Minister is asking the House, in its last days, to adopt a major change to the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, 1994, tagged on in the form of an amendment to a Bill which is supposed to be about housing.

The word “Travellers” is not mentioned in these amendments but we know it is against Travellers that they are directed. Outside the House today are representatives of the Irish Traveller Movement, the Travellers Cultural Centre, Pavee Point and the National Traveller Women's Forum. They are rightly outraged that this amendment has been tabled by the Minister without any consultation with Traveller representatives. Let me ask a question. Is this the best way to address the stated concerns of the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, and Deputies Mitchell and Roche, concerns which I acknowledge require addressing? The answer, in my opinion, is a categoric “no”. What is happening is that the oxygen that sustains the earnest address of Traveller needs is being poisoned by this measure.

I am a member of the County Monaghan Traveller Accommodation Consultation Committee and I can only imagine the reaction of some other elected colleagues, dedicated and sincere council officials, and of the representatives of the Traveller community in County Monaghan who sit on that committee to this disgraceful piggyback exercise by the Government in its dying hours.

Mary O'Donoghue of the National Traveller Women's Forum states that Traveller representatives on the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee will be considering their further participation on the committee and their engagement with the national Traveller accommodation strategy if these amendments are passed. She states that the Minister's failure to [598] inform them of the amendments makes a mockery of their work at all levels and I agree.

Martin Collins of Pavee Point states that it is impossible for the Minister to expect Traveller organisations to work closely with his Department when he does not even inform them that he is about to increase local authority powers to evict Travellers and criminalise communities of Travellers because they have nowhere to live. The backdrop to today's debate is the failure of successive Governments to provide adequate accommodation of a sufficient standard to the Traveller community. There are only 111 units of Traveller specific accommodation when a promised 2,200 units were identified and are required. That is the backdrop to these amendments. The Government and the local authorities have failed to provide the promised accommodation, including halting sites. Now Travellers are to be subject to these new draconian laws so that local authorities and the Garda can remove them in a summary fashion. That is a disgrace.

The Minister's amendments also have wider implications for civil rights which have been alluded to by Deputy Gilmore. We will be asked within one hour of my speaking here to enact major new laws on trespass giving very wide new powers to the local authorities and the Garda. This has implications for the rights to peaceful protest. We received the amendment only yesterday and are being asked to enact it today. There is no proper scrutiny and no proper debate. Some people know the questions and believe they have a monopoly on the answers but, quite clearly, they do not. This is a cynical pre-election ploy by the Government which will do nothing to address the need of Traveller accommodation. It will, as I have already stated, poison the atmosphere in which we are trying to foster better relations between Travellers and the settled community.

While I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, for being here and presenting the case, I regret very much that the Minister with responsibility for housing is not present. It is an indication of the Minister's own attitude to the issue and the focus of the debate and is completely unacceptable. I call on the Minister of State, and on the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, and his colleagues in Government even at this late stage to withdraw these amendments.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins (Dublin West): This is an incredible way to attempt to progress legislation in Dáil Éireann. It is highly insulting to the elected representatives of all the Irish people to present such a far-reaching measure that most of us received a few hours before the debate and to attempt to ram it through the Dáil, after a few hours of discussion. The biggest party in Opposition stands condemned for its willingness to go along with this treatment of Dáil Éireann. That party might as well be part of the Government as far as this measure is concerned. If the members of the main Opposition party were to put the manner in which the business of Dáil Éireann is conducted [599] and the minute scrutiny of legislation to the head of its considerations, they would clamour in opposition to what the Government is trying to do. It is shameful that they are colluding with Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats in the shameful treatment of this very complex subject and in treating Dáil Éireann in this fashion.

The evident lack of consultation on this measure with those who represent Travelling people is also shameful in the extreme. This is the Government, joined by Fine Gael on all occasions, which claims that partnership is the way forward. They have used the concept of partnership, in a fraudulent way as far as the trade union movement is concerned, to say bosses, Government and workers are in this together and that is why wages must be kept down.

The same concept was, supposedly, in play with regard to social issues, with the members of the Travelling community and their support groups being consulted in so-called partnership with Government and with other agencies responsible for the accommodation and other needs of that community. However, without so much as a reference to any of them, this draconian legislation has landed in front of the national Parliament with a direction that it be rammed through in a few hours. It is absolutely shameful.

This is entirely the wrong way to deal with a problem. Everyone accepts that a problem is created when a group of Travelling people or traders pull onto public amenity land, but the Government is approaching the problem from the wrong direction. To start with oppressive legislation, which will not work, as a means of solving serious social problems is wrong and will be shown to be counter-productive. This proposed legislation is before us because of the lamentable failure of this Government in the past five years and of successive Governments before that to deal with the genuine accommodation needs of the Travelling community. It is an admission of the most abject failure of this and previous Governments to resolve this problem, that we have this legislation before us today.

It is incredible that in 2002, in the land of the so-called Celtic tiger, when we speak of information highways and the last word in technology with regard to most areas of life, more than 1,000 Irish families live in squalor on the sides of our roads. That is a shameful affront to the Irish people and a shameful failure by successive Governments whose responsibility it is to deal with the accommodation needs of Travelling people.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell from her comfortable affluent home in suburbia has spoken many times on this issue. I have never heard her and others like her championing the urgent need for emergency measures to provide accommodation for Travelling people. If members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were in Brazil they would be on the side of the ranchers who are evicting native people from their lands to make way for cattle [600] and other enterprises. Property and the interests of the wealthy come first with the establishment politicians, whether here or in Brazil.

The clear solution to the accommodation needs of the Travelling people is a combination of Travelling people being given homes in settled communities, group housing schemes or halting sites, whichever is their wish. It is incredible that in 2002 we still do not have a Government which can pilot through the proposals and measures of local authorities and various agencies to offer that combination of accommodation which would cater for the needs of just over 1,000 homeless families.

The solution to the question of that section of the Travelling community who engage in trades of different kinds is obvious, but not a finger has been raised to take the obvious action. The answer to the problem is the provision of transient sites around the major trading or population centres so that supervised provision can be made for those who engage in this type of trade at various times of the year. The energies of those politicians who have been holding forth at their local parish pumps against Travellers who are involved in trading would have been better applied in seeing how such transient sites could have been successfully installed, particularly around the capital city. That would have removed the problem of people with no place to carry on their trade.

Furthermore, it is clear that an ethnic group which has been marginalised in our society for centuries needs special assistance with regard to the provision of resources to enable them to go forward commercially and establish, for their communities, employment in successful, environmentally friendly, small commercial enterprises. Such assistance would lift the entire Travelling community through the employment and extra wealth it would generate.

The establishment politicians are utterly blind to the needs of this section of our people in real terms. The Minister for Finance, backed by Fine Gael, a few months ago slashed corporation tax to 16%, giving back €329 million in tax cuts to big business in this year alone and further cuts every year thereafter. The business sector cannot believe the profitability it has enjoyed in the recent years of the so-called Celtic tiger. We see this type of treatment for the big corporations and a failure even to see how a section of our society which has been brutalised for so long could be given a lift. Why do establishment parties not have the same appreciation of the necessity for this as they have of the need to cater for big business and millionaire industrialists?

I have been a member of a local authority for about 11 years. Before I was on the local authority, a major controversy erupted in the area in which I live in Mulhuddart in 1990 when the local authority came up with an insane scheme of taking a barren field and proposing to put anything up to 80 to 100 Traveller families on it. The only resources were earthen mounds and cold water. Of course, we opposed it. It would have been a [601] social wound of incredible proportions if that had been inflicted on the Traveller people and on the local settled people. However, we opposed it in a particular way. We engaged in dialogue with the Traveller people concerned, set up a united committee and came up with a united approach. We said we did not want that but wanted smaller, well resourced sites or group housing schemes. As a result of that joint approach, we stopped the madness being proposed and achieved a very well designed group housing scheme and a lot of good. I am sorry to say that has not been carried forward sufficiently throughout the local authority area. However, it shows how problems can be resolved and that partnership, a joint approach between Traveller people and the local settled community and mutual understanding are necessary if we are to resolve the accommodation issue.

The problems that have arisen need to be addressed. They will be addressed primarily by providing the type of resources needed. Repressive legislation is not the answer. Let us be quite clear about that. Deputies who have stood up here and who are, effectively, voting to have caravans, maybe with families still inside them, towed away and to have entire families arrested stand condemned for their support for such a measure.

Bringing families to the District Courts on foot of injunctions was not a constructive way to resolve the disputes that arose. However, one could say that if such a dispute came before a judge, at least people would have the chance to make the arguments. One could outline the desperate conditions of the family. If there are millionaire traders in the Traveller community, which I hear right-wing politicians occasionally say – I would say there are very few – they will not end up in front of the District Court because they will be gone. However, a destitute family at least would have the right to come before the court and perhaps with their support groups and lawyers explain the situation to the judge, that is, that they have absolutely nowhere to go. If this Bill is passed, gardaí, probably armed with batons and so on, will arrive on sites at dawn to drag people off. That is the solution being proposed here, which is absolutely unbelievable.

Deputy Roche spoke about the problem of dumping in Wicklow. There has been an incredible problem with dumping in Wicklow. Hundreds of tonnes of the most horrific rubbish, probably toxic and other materials, have been dumped around Wicklow but it has not been the Traveller community that has been dumping it – it is big business and the construction industry. We do not yet know the role the local authority or individuals on the local authority played. That remains to be seen. Let us have balance on these matters and try to puncture the prejudices of those who stand here for the major parties.

I with to refer to land, the sanctity of private ownership, business land and so on. Again, here we have the sickening double standards of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. There has been a grotesque [602] abuse of land in the Dublin area but not a voice of opposition has been raised by those parties to that abuse. I speak of wealthy landowners who have taken this valuable resource and who profiteered and speculated shamelessly with land so that the price of a home for ordinary people, including young people, is two, three or four times what it was four or five years ago. That is the most grotesque abuse of land I know in the greater Dublin area but I did not see emergency legislation before the Dáil from the Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government or demands from Fine Gael that that type of grotesque abuse be restrained. What we have here is a one-sided and hypocritical approach which will not be successful in resolving the problems.

For over ten years I have listened to and have never ceased to be amazed by the assumptions of the establishment politicians. Some time ago I heard politicians in my local authority demand that there be a provision in the planning law, the county development plan or wherever that if a legal, prescribed Traveller site is located in a certain area, that no other such site be located within a mile or two of the original site. I am amazed by this type of assumption. I find millionaire mansions quite offensive but if I suggested that in Howth or Foxrock, where a millionaire has his or her mansion, no further mansion be allowed within a mile of that – if I stood up and seriously proclaimed that as a policy – I can imagine the type of drubbing I would get from those on the benches in front of me. I would be dismissed as a madman and so on. That is precisely the inverse of what the establishment politicians are saying in regard to the Traveller community.

What we have here is a continuation of the same old story, prejudices and failures. I want to see the problems of the Traveller community and their accommodation needs resolved. It is in the resolution of those needs and the resourcing of the needs, in a commercial sense, of sections of that community that the problem will be solved and not by this type of measure.

Mar chríoch, tá an Rialtas ag teacht isteach anseo inniu agus ag tabhairt isteach reachtaíochta a bhaineann le daoine atá faoi chois sa tír seo leis na cianta – seanslíocht na nGael, daoine atá ceangailte don dtaobh amuigh leis na blianta. Ní dhéarna Rialtas i ndiaidh Rialtais sa tír seo rud ar bith i ndáiríre freagra a thabhairt do na fadhbanna, go háirithe fadhbanna a bhaineann le háit cónaithe, a bhíonn ag lucht siúl na tíre seo. Beidh an reachtaíocht seo tubaisteach más rud é go gcuirfear tríd an Dáil é. Tá sé ag cur cois eile anuas ar chearta an mhionlaigh seo dár ndaoine in ionad tabhairt faoina bhfadhbanna agus freagraí a thabhairt dóibh. Sé an freagra sin ná áiteanna cónaithe atá cuí agus ceart a chur ar fáil don lucht siúl agus cabhrú leis an chuid sin díobh a theastaíonn uathu gnó nó cumarsáid bheag a chur chun cinn. Is féi[603] dir linn na fadhbanna eile a réitiú agus sinn ag tabhairt faoin bhfadhb sa tslí sin.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace Zoom on Dan Wallace Considerable progress has been made in the provision of Traveller accommodation in recent years. The Government has enacted the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998, set up a dedicated Traveller accommodation unit in my Department and provided funds for local authorities to increase the provision of Traveller accommodation. Local authorities have adopted five year programmes under the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act, 1998, and are in the process of implementing them. These programmes identify a need for the provision for 3,785 units of all kinds of accommodation to meet Traveller's needs in the period of the programme, 2000-04. A total of 550 families have been accommodated in the first two years of the programme. They are accommodated in standard local authority housing, Traveller specific accommodation and housing provided by voluntary bodies. Traveller specific accommodation includes group housing and halting sites. In addition to providing accommodation directly, local authorities provide new house grants and special Traveller grants to assist Travellers in the purchase of their own houses. Local authorities also provide assistance under the rental subsidy scheme to voluntary bodies in the provision of accommodation to Travellers.

It is pleasing to see these improvements arising in the first and second years of the programme. That is not to say we should be entirely satisfied with progress. An increased level of provision is required to meet the current and future needs of Travellers. Expenditure on Traveller accommodation arises under a number of headings. Travellers are accommodated in standard local authority houses. In the past two years 299 Traveller families were accommodated in this way. Expenditure on Traveller specific accommodation such as group housing, permanent, temporary and emergency halting sites has also increased. The total capital expenditure since the Government came into power amounts to €72.5 million. In 2000 alone, €23.1 million was spent on providing new and refurbishing existing Traveller specific accommodation. Expenditure is also incurred in the management and maintenance of such accommodation, recouping the costs of social workers as well as from the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee. These costs amount to a further €15.7 million and give rise to a total spend of €98.2 million. This is a significant investment in Traveller accommodation and is a measure of the Government's commitment to meet Traveller needs.

The accommodation provided reduces the numbers on the roadside. The past two years have seen the number of families living on the roadside reduced by 190. This is the first time in a number of years that this has happened. The reduction is welcome when taken in the context [604] of the increase in the overall number of Traveller families by 360. These figure clearly show the Government's commitment to Traveller accommodation.

Travellers have always been engaged in a nomadic way of life. It is part of their culture and it is expected that this will continue. There have been many cases where there has been little or no difficulty attached to such movement in what were in effect unauthorised encampments. Circumstances have changed in recent years. There has been an increase in the scale of such encampments. The large scale of such encampments, in some cases numbering more than 100 caravans, has exacerbated the situation. The nature of such encampments has also changed. Many Travellers in unauthorised encampments are there to engage in commercial or trading activities. Many of them have permanent accommodation elsewhere, either in this State or outside it. The length of such stays has also increased. In a much publicised incident in south Dublin last year, some Travellers stayed for up to seven months. While some who stayed for this length of time were awaiting permanent accommodation, others were engaged in commercial activity. We have seen indications of this again this year.

The amendment is primarily aimed at land used for recreational and amenity purposes and private lands. This arises from the entry on to lands such as public parks and playing fields of large scale unauthorised encampments. In some cases they remain there for several months. We have also seen incursions on private land and not all of those incidents received headline publicity. Many of these were on such lands while the occupants were in the area engaging in commercial or trading activities, sometimes at the camp location. The presence of such encampments degraded the amenities which were provided for the use and enjoyment of the public. We have seen the effect of these encampments in the indiscriminate dumping, sometimes in rivers or streams, of debris associated with the occupational activities of the owners of the temporary dwellings. I am not speaking about families on short visits to relatives or on the move for short periods as part of their annual patterns of movement. Neither am I speaking of families on the roadside or other public lands with whom the local authorities are acquainted, pending the provision of permanent accommodation. While local authorities must provide transient sites, it has not been envisaged that such facilities would cater for the type of long-term stay which has been a feature of the large scale unauthorised encampments we have experienced in recent years.

The monitoring committee on the implementation of the recommendations of the task force was asked by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to consider the Private Members' Bill and advise, among other matters, on issues relating to the enforcement and adequacy of existing laws dealing with unauthorised temporary dwellings, trespass and public [605] order. The sub-committee that considered the issues is representative of the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Environment and Local Government, local authorities, Traveller support groups, the Garda and business interests. Its brief was to seek consensus on the issues before it. While the committee has not yet finalised its report, indications are that there will be no general agreement on making changes to existing legislation. The issue of trespass was discussed and the Garda are on the sub-committee. The draft report of the sub-committee recommended that trespass not be criminalised. While the amendment will apply to trespass generally, it will apply only where a person enters land without the owner's consent and where the presence of the person or his vehicle could substantially damage the land or associated amenities.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell raised a question about the delay in bringing legislation before the House. I can assure the House that we have not let the dust settle on this issue. Since the publication of Deputy Mitchell's private Members' Bill, my officials have given very serious consideration to this issue. We have obtained legal advice on the various aspects of it. The House will realise that this amendment raised very serious and fundamental questions relating to unauthorised dwellings and the appropriate mechanism to deal with them. Our priority was to develop an appropriate response to deal with this issue. The provision explicitly provides that land, for the purpose of the new powers, includes lands provided or maintained by statutory bodies primarily for the amenity or recreation of the public or any class of persons and land within the curtilage of a public building. It specifies that this includes any park, open space, car park, playing field or other space provided for recreational, community or conservation purposes. “Land” is also deemed to include land held by trustees for the benefit of the public or any class of the public, and would include schools, for example. The provision makes it clear that entry onto any land, including private land, will be subject to the new powers.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The Minister of State's response is disappointing. He has not addressed the issues put to him. He gave many figures about the Traveller accommodation programme, but did not address my point that the Traveller specific accommodation was to have been about 2,200 units, of which only around 100 have been provided to date, leaving a serious shortfall. He also effectively confirmed the existence of a draft report from the sub-committee which addressed this. We have not seen this draft report that did not deliver what the Government wanted and so was ignored. In fairness to the committee, it should at least be allowed to complete the report, have it published and considered in the normal way. It is arrogant of the Government, having established a committee to examine a particular problem, to do the opposite to what the commit[606] tee recommends because it does not like its findings.

The Minister of State did not answer my question about the Garda. Was the Garda consulted about this legislation and what is its view of it? It is irresponsible of the Oireachtas to enact legislation about the enforcement of which doubts exist. It is not a question, as Deputy Mitchell appeared to imply, of it being our job to legislate and someone else's to enforce the legislation. We have a responsibility, when enacting legislation, to take account of its capacity to be enforced. Deputy Mitchell made the point that we cannot expect gardaí to arrest everyone in a place where 100 caravans are parked, but that they could arrest one family. That suggests that this legislation will not be used in the type of circumstance for which it has purportedly been introduced. We all agree that the huge convoy of trader Travellers, which appears on an open space, is a problem, but this legislation will not be used in this circumstance as we do not expect gardaí to intervene.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Deputy knows that I did not say that.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore However, one individual family—

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell Out of a hundred.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins (Dublin West): Ariel Sharon has perfected it.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Let us consider this carefully because this is where the issue of enforceability will come into play. This legislation fundamentally changes the responsibility for the enforcement of the law in relation to Traveller encampments. Until now, as we all know from experience, where such an encampment caused a problem, both the Garda and the local authority had roles to play, and usually the situation was resolved. However, this changes dramatically under this legislation because as soon as a caravan appears on a piece of open or public ground it will be up to the Garda to remove it. The legislation says that a member of the Garda, who has reason to believe that a person is committing an offence under this legislation, may demand that person's name and address, may direct him or her to leave the land, and so on. Gardaí will be under pressure from local communities to move encampments on. Has the Minister discussed this with the Garda to ascertain if it believes it will be able to implement it?

This island has, unfortunately, experienced many instances of legislation being passed which pitched the police force against sections of the community. If this legislation is enacted, I will encourage people to comply and abide with it, but it does not take a genius to envisage the type of situation which this legislation is teeing up, namely conflict between the Garda and groups of [607] Travellers, and also, as I stated previously, with others such as protesters demonstrating in a field against GMO foods. With 15 minutes to go, will the Minister tell us if there was discussion with the Garda and what is its view on the enforceability? Has he received observations from the Garda Commissioner, and, if so, will he put them on the record before the debate is over?

Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood Zoom on Chris Flood At the outset, I want to say that I hold Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, in high personal and political regard and thank him for coming here to take this legislation. However, there are some areas that have not been satisfactorily addressed.

The first is the lack of consultation. Representatives of the Traveller community are aggrieved that they were not consulted and that this legislation was introduced in parallel to work they were doing. Many were suspicious of becoming involved at a central level with statutory agencies because of recent negative experiences. They felt that their contributions were not highly regarded and they had great difficulty in meeting agencies and local authorities. It was a major step for them to become involved with central planning. Therefore, they are aggrieved that they were locked out of the process on this important issue, and this may impact adversely on their willingness to work with State agencies.

When I, as a Minister, had to make a difficult decision, I met with organisations working in the field, even if they disagreed with me, to explain why I was taking a particular course of action. I may even have been influenced by them on occasion and adopted another approach. The level of consultation which occurred on this issue does not appear to have been satisfactory.

Some Members, such as Deputies Joe Higgins and Ó Caoláin, felt it necessary to lash this and previous Governments on the accommodation issue, but this is not a simple matter. Various Governments have taken different decisions with regard to providing proper accommodation.

The real problem at local authority level is that elected members of all parties, including my own, do not co-operate in the implementation of the accommodation plans. Travellers are disappointed with the lack of proper treatment of and status for the local Traveller consultative committees and, in most cases, they find them a waste of time. If the operational responsibility to provide accommodation rests with local authorities, as is currently the case, it is for the elected members of all political parties, including my own, to take the necessary decisions. The issue of accommodation could then be dealt with properly and we would no longer be in conflict.

Conflict at local community level is a serious matter. Deputy Gilmore referred to it in his contribution. I am greatly concerned that local gardaí will be dragooned or forced, almost as an element of the State, into becoming anti-Traveller. That is the last thing the gardaí I know would wish for [608] but because of this significant change they will be drawn into conflict. I can picture in my mind large numbers of gardaí with batons drawn, large numbers of caravans, children frightened and women upset. That will do nothing for a community which might feel aggrieved, the Travellers or the image of this State.

This is not the correct way to deal with the problem. The correct way to deal with it is to provide the accommodation, as outlined in 1995. Having worked with the representative organisations and agreed that the issue is now complete in terms of accommodation provision, there may then be room to tighten up the law, as the Travellers representative organisations have said. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not this provision will lead to conflict, and that is not good at community level where bitterness, hatred and racism will rear their ugly heads because of what will be seen as a heavy-handed response to Travellers occupying a piece of ground, for whatever reason, which others believe they should not occupy. That is the reason I am disappointed with this amendment.

Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell I want to respond to the question of people not being consulted. I understand from what the Minister of State said that a number of issues were referred for consultation by the group of the various interests, including Travellers, the Garda Síochána, his own Department and so on, and I assume the report of that group will be accepted and considered by the Minister. There are a number of issues surrounding the way in which Travellers and their culture can be accommodated in our society and I agree with Deputy Higgins, although I do not often agree with him, that there is a need to find a way in which Travellers can find employment for themselves and their community, and examine the way transient sites might operate. It was not envisaged that transient sites would be occupied for seven or eight months of the year in the way that some of the illegal transient sites are operated for the purposes of trading. There are various issues, therefore, that this legislation does not even attempt to address but which need to be addressed.

This proposal is not the total answer to dealing with a problem which is related to the accommodation of Travellers and the way their economy, if it can be described that way, can be facilitated in a non-confrontational way. We talk about consulting people on whether someone has a right to break into private property. I received letters from two unfortunate people in Deputy Flood's constituency who are trying to carry on a business in an industrial estate but whose business premises are occupied by Travellers. Their business is effectively gone. Who has the right to be consulted about whether that is right or wrong? It is either right or wrong, and I believe it is wrong.

Mr. Flood: Information on Chris Flood Zoom on Chris Flood It is not that section. It is publicly owned land.

[609]Ms O. Mitchell: Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell The Deputy said there will be confrontation. There will be no more confrontation than there is with any legislation we pass to prevent activity that this society considers wrong. If there is confrontation it will be because someone is trying to break the law. Why is that different from any other type of legislation? Deputy Flood said it would create bitterness. I do not know if there is anything I have experienced in all my years as a public representative that has created more bitterness and disillusionment among the public than the kind of incursions we have seen in recent times. There is a real sense among the public that they are helpless and that the law does nothing to protect them. Elderly people are being terrorised for months at a time and are left with a sense that other sections of the community have rights that they do not have and that they can vindicate their perceived rights at the expense of the rest of the community. That is causing greater bitterness than any attempt to enforce laws we are passing now.

This type of legislation is necessary. I do not foresee it resulting in confrontational scenes, unless they are staged. Behaviour will change. There will be a moral imperative on local authorities, county managers, elected representatives and the community as a whole, which now has this protection, to ensure that accommodation is provided for Travellers. I agree with Deputy Higgins on the need for the development of a Traveller economy in a way that is not an affront to the rest of the community but which allows Travellers to provide employment not only for themselves but for other members of the community. I support the amendment.

Mr. Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins Zoom on Joe Higgins (Dublin West): This legislation has serious implications for trade unionists and for environmental activists but, unfortunately, there is not enough time to go into that aspect. I will deal briefly with points raised by Deputy Gilmore and Deputy Flood. Let us take the case of a family of four living in the location being objected to which has nowhere else to go. The recourse now is to send the gardaí to the location but what will happen then? If the family has nowhere to go, [610] how can the gardaí deal with the problem? They can deal with it by drawing batons and driving them off the land. They can impound the caravan, but where will the family go? What will happen to the children? Until now, the local authority intervened and some form of mediation took place with perhaps some kind of alternative accommodation being found. What we have here is a problem not unlike the apartheid South Africa squatter situation, where the state moved in with a heavy hand to deal with what was also a social problem.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin I thank Deputy Higgins for sharing the last minute of the debate with me. There are two ways of approaching all problems, either by carrot or stick or a combination of both but all I see employed in relation to the issue of Traveller accommodation and the “move-on” mentality is stick, stick, stick, and we are seeing more of it here today. It is a disgrace. As Deputy Higgins said, the housing authorities, our county authorities, have prime responsibility for providing housing accommodation. To where will the Garda redirect people in situations where they force them to move-on? Unless we address the need to provide essential accommodation opportunities in a range of different ways, ways identified by Travellers, we will never find a solution to this matter. We certainly will not find one by way of the type of proposition that has been put before this House at this sad moment in the dying hours of this Government.

Mr. D. Wallace: Information on Dan Wallace Zoom on Dan Wallace Before the Acting Chairman puts the question, I want to apologise for the absence of the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy. He had intended to be here, but he is indisposed.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Browne,: Information on John Browne Zoom on John Browne  Carlow-Kilkenny): As it is now 1.30 p.m., I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of this day, “That the amendments set down by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill, Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed”.

Question put.

Ahern, Bertie.
Ahern, Dermot.
Ahern, Michael.
Ahern, Noel.
Allen, Bernard.
Andrews, David.
Aylward, Liam.
Belton, Louis J.
Bradford, Paul.
Brady, Johnny.
Brady, Martin.
Brennan, Séamus.
Briscoe, Ben.
Browne, John (Carlow-Kilkenny).
Browne, John (Wexford).
Bruton, Richard.
Byrne, Hugh.
Callely, Ivor.
Carey, Donal.
Carey, Pat.
Clune, Deirdre.
Collins, Michael.
Connaughton, Paul.
Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Coughlan, Mary.
Cowen, Brian.
Crawford, Seymour.
Creed, Michael.
Cullen, Martin.
Currie, Austin.
Daly, Brendan.
D'Arcy, Michael.
Davern, Noel.de Valera, Síle.[611]

Tá–continued

Deasy, Austin.
Dempsey, Noel.
Doherty, Seán.
Dukes, Alan.
Durkan, Bernard.
Ellis, John.
Enright, Thomas.
Fahey, Frank.
Farrelly, John.
Finucane, Michael.
Fitzgerald, Frances.
Flanagan, Charles.
Fleming, Seán.
Foley, Denis.
Fox, Mildred.
Gildea, Thomas.
Hanafin, Mary.
Harney, Mary.
Haughey, Seán.
Hayes, Brian.
Hayes, Tom.
Healy-Rae, Jackie.
Higgins, Jim.
Jacob, Joe.
Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.
Kenneally, Brendan.
Killeen, Tony.
Kirk, Séamus.
Kitt, Michael P.
Kitt, Tom.
Lenihan, Brian.
Lenihan, Conor.
McCormack, Pádraic.
McCreevy, Charlie.
McDaid, James.
[612]McGinley, Dinny.
McGrath, Paul.
McGuinness, John J.
Martin, Micheál.
Mitchell, Jim.
Mitchell, Olivia.
Moffatt, Thomas.
Moloney, John.
Moynihan, Donal.
Moynihan, Michael.
Neville, Dan.
Ó Cuív, Éamon.
O'Dea, Willie.
O'Donoghue, John.
O'Flynn, Noel.
O'Hanlon, Rory.
O'Keeffe, Batt.
O'Keeffe, Jim.
O'Kennedy, Michael.
O'Malley, Desmond.
O'Rourke, Mary.
Perry, John.
Power, Seán.
Reynolds, Gerard.
Ring, Michael.
Roche, Dick.
Ryan, Eoin.
Shatter, Alan.
Sheehan, Patrick.
Smith, Michael.
Timmins, Billy.
Treacy, Noel.
Wade, Eddie.
Wallace, Dan.
Walsh, Joe.
Woods, Michael.
Wright, G. V.

Níl

Bell, Michael.
Broughan, Thomas P.
Gilmore, Éamon.
Gormley, John.
Healy, Séamus.
Higgins, Joe.
Higgins, Michael.
Howlin, Brendan.
Moynihan-Cronin, Breeda.
Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
O'Shea, Brian.
O'Sullivan, Jan.
Penrose, William.
Quinn, Ruairí.
Rabbitte, Pat.
Ryan, Seán.
Stagg, Emmet.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies S. Brennan and Power; Níl, Deputies Gilmore and Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Sitting suspended at 1.45 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.


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