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 Header Item Approved Housing Bodies (Continued)
 Header Item Traveller Accommodation

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English] I question that too. I sense a little frustration in the Deputy's voice, but the housing bodies are not for profit. This is a good use of money. They avail of private finance and the Housing Finance Agency; therefore, they use a combination of funding sources, which gives us a good result and helps us to increase activity. I agree with the Deputy that they are in a very strong position to manage their properties. Local authorities are also well funded to do the same and their voids programmes help to turn properties around.

  Questions Nos. 26, 38 and 58 replied to with Written Answers.

Traveller Accommodation

 27. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the steps he will take in view of the findings of the European committee on social rights that Ireland remains in violation of the European social charter on five grounds for Travellers by failing to redress insufficient provision and inadequate quality of Traveller accommodation, in legislation and practice and in circumstances in which Travellers were threatened with evictions and without the necessary safeguards. [8481/19]

 30. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the number of Traveller-specific accommodation units built in 2018; and the targets in place for 2019 and 2020. [8381/19]

 43. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the rationale for the 44% underspend in the Traveller accommodation budget for 2018; and the efforts he is making to ensure there is a 100% draw-down of funding by local authorities in 2019.  [8452/19]

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I raise this question because there seems to be an issue with the money being provided for local authorities. The data show that, of the €12 million earmarked for Traveller housing in 2018, just €1.7 million was drawn down. Money is being allocated for Traveller accommodation, but it is not being drawn down. An independent expert group was established to examine and make recommendations on the issues related to the provision of Traveller accommodation. At what stage is it? It was supposed to report early this year.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I propose to take Questions Nos. 27, 30 and 43 together.

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, local authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes, TAPs, in their areas.  My Department’s role is to ensure there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist the local authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding. It is a matter for each local authority to set targets for the provision of Traveller accommodation, which they outline in their TAPs. The allocation and recoupment profiles for Traveller accommodation projects can vary across local authorities, given local priorities, circumstances and project timelines as set out in their programmes.  The programmes provide a roadmap for local authority investment priorities over the period and form the basis for the allocation of funding from my Department for Traveller accommodation.

In 2018 local authorities delivered a total of 107 units of Traveller accommodation.  They included 57 refurbishments or extensions, 48 emergency caravans, one group house and one first-time buyer's grant for the purchase of a caravan. Local authorities are preparing their fifth multi-annual TAPs which will run from 2019 to 2024.  I believe the new councils will continue this process in June this year. The plans will outline details of the programmes to be undertaken to meet the existing and projected accommodation needs of Travellers in their areas.  The TAPs will be prepared by the local authorities in consultation with local Traveller organisations, the local Traveller consultative committees, LTACCs, other relevant community groups and the public in general.  They will come into effect from September this year.

In line with the commitment in Rebuilding Ireland, reflecting the disappointing level of overall funding drawn down in recent years, which I agree is unacceptable, and having regard to relevant findings in relation to the European social charter referred to, the Housing Agency commissioned a review of funding for Traveller-specific accommodation in 2017.  The review had regard to the targets contained in local authority TAPs and the actual delivery, the status of accommodation funded and funding provided for accommodation maintenance and other supports.

Following its consideration of the review, the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee recommended that an independent expert group be established to examine and make recommendations on issues regarding Traveller accommodation policy, strategy and implementation.  The expert group was established in September 2018.  It has been asked to review the effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community.  It has also been asked to review other legislation that may impact on the provision and delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation, including transient accommodation, which will address a number of the issues raised by the European committee on social rights.  I expect the group to provide my Department with a report in April this year. When we set it up in September or October, I met the group and asked its members to do this work as quickly as they possibly could. We wanted them to do it within three or four months, but they expressed a preference for a period of six months. We hope to have the report no later than April in order that we can act on it at that time. My Department will consider any recommendation made by the expert group that will have the potential to improve the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally and help to ensure full use is made of the increasing level of funding available for investment in Traveller accommodation.

The Deputy asked about targets for next year. At housing summits and individual meetings with the housing delivery team as we travel around the country, we sit down with local authorities to go through the question of delivery. I will continue to do so in the next month or two, with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We will try to see if projects are on track and that there are proposals in the pipeline as we want the money to be spent.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins I welcome the points made by the Minister of State. Heretofore, there has not been any drilling down into how and where Traveller accommodation can be built. If Traveller groups are involved in the process, it can make a difference. I was hoping the report would be ready by now, as I am interested in the details of what it will contain. There has been a lack of will on the part of local authorities to provide the accommodation needed by the Traveller community, but I hope the process the Minister of State has put in place will deliver over a period of time and determine where we can build five, ten or 20 homes and provide the funding needed for them. That is the only way to deal with the issue.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English I agree with the Deputy. We genuinely want to make progress in this area. There has been under-achievement in meeting the TAP targets set for the past 20 years by up to 80%, although the position in some years was better than others. Not enough has been happening at local level to make projects succeed. The Deputy made reference to local authorities, but detailed analysis has been undertaken and it has been found that there is a combination of reasons for it, and that all stakeholders are involved. We need to find ways to make this happen and have the money spent. People are living in unsatisfactory conditions, something none of us wants. Therefore, we must address the issue which is a priority for us and the sooner we receive the report the better. Even without it, we are sitting down with the local authorities to work on projects to have them delivered. It comes down to planning, design and lay-out and individual families have different requests.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin I acknowledge the good work the Minister of State is doing on the issue, particularly in the establishment of the expert group. However, I am increasingly concerned by the underspend year on year. I received the reply to a parliamentary question last night which gave us the breakdown for last year by local authority. Not only was there a 48% underspend across the State, ten local authorities did not spend anything at all, 14 significantly underspent, while only six either spent their full allocation or overspent. That is not good enough. I hope the Minister of State is not suggesting he is waiting for the expert group to make its findings to enable him to work out how to deal with the issue. This is the second year in a row in which just about half of the budget has not been spent. What did the Minister of State do last year with the local authorities to fix the underspend in the year before and last year? Whatever the expert group recommends in its report, to which we are looking forward, it will not have any impact until 2020. What is the Minister of State going to do differently this year to ensure we will not be here in 12 months' time discussing a significant underspend?

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English We all share the Deputies' concerns that the money is not being spent on Traveller-specific accommodation, but even though there is an underspend, we will make sure the money is spent on other housing solutions that will benefit both Travellers and non-Travellers. Travellers do not just benefit from Traveller-specific accommodation. We meet many Traveller families who want a choice of accommodation. The money is not lost to the housing budget and the Department has proved that it can spend money wisely and get good results.

The only way we have to deal with local authorities is to use existing law. We can sit down with them and work through specific projects. I have visited some of the key sites in a couple of counties that are causing difficulty. Some of the sites in Galway and Cork were named in the European review. We have sat down with local authority members and council staff in the areas concerned to find ways to progress projects. I have also met many Traveller representative bodies to try to make a breakthrough because in some situations it is not as straightforward as it seems. It is not always the fault of one side and there are other issues at play. The best way to do it is to work through our delivery team to find ways to have the money spent. We are not waiting for the expert group to come back, but I hope the report will indicate a clear direction for how we can tackle this issue. We want to improve the position for Traveller families.

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