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Topical Issue Debate - Traveller Accommodation

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 760 No. 3

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Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis As the Minister of State will know, Travellers are an ethnic group within our society. In recent years they feel they are being increasingly marginalised. There have been cuts in education, housing, local authority facilities and social supports. There have been significant rent increases, especially in local authority sites throughout the country. There has been a loss of resource teachers, special needs assistants and supports. This is on top of prejudice and ignorance engaged in by some sections of our society. Travellers have been discriminated against in jobs because they come from deprived areas such as Finglas, Ballymun and others. They have also been blocked from entering public houses, hotels and other such places. This is unacceptable as well as illegal. The vast majority of Travellers integrate well within our society.

I refer to a problem which affects five families on a Traveller site in Avila Park in Finglas. This large number of families had been living in six bungalows that were condemned as a result of pyrite found in the houses. Four of the houses were to be reinstated in part with internal works and two were to be completely rebuilt. This happened in 2005 when the problem was first brought to my attention. I visited the families and saw the conditions in which they were living which were appalling. The buildings were falling down and there were cracks everywhere. For two years these families have been living in caravans as a result of a commitment made by [646]the local authority that their houses would be rebuilt and there would be no problem in getting the funding. This issue was brought in front of all councillors, local Deputies, officials from Dublin City Council and others. Recently, Dublin City Council met with officials from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. The Department indicated that for the Traveller programme with Dublin City Council there was only €50,000 available this year for capital projects. Last year €1.3 million was made available. At this rate, these families will be left in these conditions for the foreseeable future because no capital funding is available. That is unacceptable.

There is also a problem in regard to refurbishment of places. I refer to Dunsink Lane where there are 300 people. This is in the Fingal area but a number of sites in the Dunsink Lane area are administered by Dublin City Council. There have been terrible problems arising from families being cut off by a barrier that was put in place many years ago, against my wishes but supported by other political parties in the area. That was appalling.

There is considerable discrimination between the way people in the Traveller community are dealt with compared to those in the settled community. I gave two examples. It is totally unacceptable that families are left sitting in caravans for two years in such conditions after promises were made. They bought furniture, have had to store it elsewhere at great cost and are living in appalling conditions in which nobody would live.

I ask the Minister of State to look at this matter and also at the issue of Dunsink Lane.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne): Information on Catherine Byrne Zoom on Catherine Byrne The Deputy will have another two minutes after the Minister of State’s reply.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and will respond first to the general point on funding. For the Deputy’s information, I met two weeks ago with members of the Irish Traveller Movement who referred to the Dunsink Lane issue but that was not included on the Deputy’s agenda today so I will not address it directly.

  5 o’clock

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes designed to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers rests with individual housing authorities. My Department’s role is to ensure there is an adequate legislative and financial system in place to assist the authorities in providing such accommodation. While the budget for Traveller-specific accommodation has declined considerably from previous years, the March 2011 housing needs assessment showed a clear preference among Travellers for standard housing, which is funded separately from Traveller-specific accommodation. The assessment has shown that of the 1,824 Traveller families on the waiting list, 1,789 opted for standard local authority or voluntary housing. The vast majority of Travellers already live in standard housing, whether standard local authority housing or private housing with local authority assistance, rent supplement or assistance under the rental accommodation scheme. Therefore, while funding for Traveller-specific accommodation continues to be provided for Traveller families who wish to be accommodated in this manner, evidence shows that the vast majority of Travellers wish to be accommodated in standard housing. Some €6 million out of the €60 million I allocated recently for local authority construction and acquisition programmes is for Traveller-specific projects.

Regarding the specific issue raised by the Deputy, in September 2011, Dublin City Council submitted a request to my Department for the provision of funding for remedial works to the [647]houses in question. The detail of the proposal and potential alternatives for funding have been the subject of correspondence between my Department and the city council in the interim. A formal application for funding, including an evaluation of the options for remediation and-or replacement in respect of the number of properties affected, the extent of the works proposed and an all-in cost for the project, was requested from the council in January of this year. Subsequently, a meeting took place between my Department and the council on 7 March to consider how to advance the works. While a number of issues require clarification from the council, the Department has given a provisional commitment to part-fund these works. Funding will be reviewed after all outstanding issues have been addressed and, following this, the receipt of a tender report in due course from the council.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis A provisional commitment was given to part-fund this work but five of the six families have been living in caravans for two years. It is unacceptable for anyone to sit in those conditions for two years. We need to move this on. Dublin City Council needs to provide costings for the work needed to restore the buildings to the proper standard. It is unacceptable that the council budget for this was cut from €1.3 million to €50,000. Where is the mathematics in that massive reduction? There has been a reduction in capital funding and funding for remedial works and it is not good enough. I ask the Minister of State to intervene. These families face health and safety issues.

I mentioned Dunsink Lane although I did not include it in the agenda. Families have been isolated in Dunsink Lane because we built a barrier, which is appalling. We cut off Finglas from Castleknock, which was a natural and open route used by many people and alleviated traffic. I ask the Minister of State to talk to Fingal County Council. I have raised this matter with Fingal County Council and Dublin City Council and I opposed the measure for many years. It has had a major detrimental effect on communities as a result of what happened.

I ask the Minister of State to follow up on the issue of these families and the funding local authorities receive for work that needs to be done in Dunsink Lane, St. Joseph’s and other places.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The formal submissions have been made and there have been discussions. The Department has responded to say that it will partly fund the operation. The council intends to go to tender soon and intends to commence the work this year. I agree it is unacceptable that families must live in these conditions but the Department responded as soon as it received a formal request. Discussions are ongoing and my understanding is that work will commence this year.

Deputy Ellis should feel free to contact my office about Dunsink Lane, which I discussed briefly with the Irish Traveller Movement when it was discussing a number of issues of concern with me. The issue has been raised in this Chamber over the years and has been ongoing for a long time. I am happy to receive any specific point Deputy Ellis wants to raise with me.

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