Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998 [ Seanad Bill amended by Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

Thursday, 2 July 1998

Seanad Éireann Debate
Vol. 156 No. 9

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An Cathaoirleach: Information on Brian Mullooly Zoom on Brian Mullooly This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 85, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question “That the Bill be received for final consideration”, the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. Therefore, the only matters which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For the convenience of Senators, I have arranged for the amendments to be printed and circulated. Members may speak only once. [635] Question proposed: “That the Bill be received for final consideration.”

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Molloy): Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy A number of amendments were made to the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998, in the Dáil which have resulted in improvements to the Bill which I will now outline.

One of the main objectives of the Bill is the improvement in the existing arrangements for consultation between local authorities, travellers and the public, aspects which I recall were of considerable interest to Senators. It is not surprising that a number of amendments relate to this process.

The first such amendment, namely, amendment No. 3, inserted a new paragraph (e) in section 8 to specifically require that local community bodies or groups will be notified prior to the preparation of a draft accommodation programme. The inclusion of such a requirement at this early stage is significant in that it ensures local community groups will have opportunities to be involved from the earliest possible point in the process — for example, once notified, a local group could make an initial submission to the housing authority on its general policy in this area.

The consequence of being notified under section 8 is that groups are automatically supplied with the following: a draft of the programme when put on public display; a copy of any amended draft programme which is submitted to the members of the authority for adoption; and, a copy of the programme as finally adopted. It must be remembered these are the minimum requirements and there should be further opportunities for further input or exchange of information on the process, depending on local circumstances. In putting forward this amendment, I took into account the views expressed by many Senators about the need for wider public consultation on proposals for traveller accommodation. While the Senators' comments were made in the context of including representatives on the local consultative committee, I proposed this amendment as a more appropriate means of ensuring public involvement from the earliest practicable stages.

The next main group of amendments relate to the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee and the local accommodation consultative committees. Amendment No. 9 inserted an additional subsection in section 9 to require the national committee to submit an annual report to the Minister and to have the report laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. In this way there will be regular opportunities for both Houses to raise any issue or problems relative to the provision of accommodation for travellers. Amendment No. 10 to subsection (5) of section 20 will ensure that a person appointed to fill a casual vacancy on the national committee will be selected in the same manner as the previous [636] appointment. Amendment No. 11 inserted an additional subsection (6) in section 21 to provide that proceedings of a local consultative committee were not invalidated by any vacancies among the membership. There is also an additional subsection (3) in section 22 as a result of amendment No. 12 which makes it clear it is the members of the authority who make the appointments to the local committee. While this level of detail could have been provided for through the Minister's power to issue directions to the appointing authority, I accepted the amendments in the interests of clarity and transparency.

As a result of amendment No. 13, an important new provision has been introduced at section 25. This is an enabling provision to ensure local authorities have adequate statutory backing to provide loans for caravan replacement or repair or the acquisition of land or the provision of sites for caravans. Existing policies in this area have been under review by the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Group, the group set up in advance of legislation, with a view to extending the range of options available to travellers to acquire their own accommodation. A preliminary examination of recommendations of the group was recently completed in my Department during which the inadequacies of the existing legislation to support loans schemes were identified. The new section 25 will allow any loans scheme which may be brought forward to be put on a proper statutory footing, including the attachment of criteria and conditions which are practical and enforceable.

Amendment No. 18 inserted a new provision, the purpose of which is to include a reference to section 20A in section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992, to ensure the offences provisions of section 34 apply to contraventions of any regulations made under section 20A. The amendment arises out of District Court proceedings taken by a local authority against a number of landlords in which it was successfully argued that their failure to pay the annual registration fee required under article 8 of the Housing (Registration of Rented Houses) Regulations, 1996, was not an offence. Section 20A of the 1992 Act provides for the making of regulations requiring the payment of an annual or other fee in relation to the functions of authorities in respect of rented accommodation. The registrations regulations, 1996 were made under section 20A of the 1992 Act. The effect of this amendment will be to remove any doubt that failure to pay the annual registration fee is an offence.

Amendment No. 17 is intended to ensure that the prohibition on erection of temporary dwelling within one mile of existing accommodation at paragraph (1)(c) of the revised section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992, applies, in the case of accommodation provided by voluntary housing bodies, to the full range of accommodation which may be provided by such [637] bodies for travellers and not just sites for caravans as in the previous wording.

Amendment No. 1 provides for the insertion of a new subsection (4) in section 7 to give specific power to the Minister to specify the date by which local accommodation programmes must be adopted. While the provisions of subsection (1) imply the Minister has this power, I was advised specific provision should be made for this.

The remaining amendments were of a drafting nature, relating mostly to improvements in punctuation and realignment of text. The purpose of amendment Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6 and 8 to sections 8, 9, 12, 13, and 18 respectively was to improve the punctuation. In addition to punctuation, amendment No. 7 inserted in section 14 the indefinite article before “amendment” in the second line of the section.

Amendment No. 15 to paragraph (b) of the revised section 10(1) of the 1992 Act was for the purposes of realigning the text to ensure that powers of local authorities in relation to follow up action apply to any of the circumstances described at articles (i), (ii) or (iii) and not just article (iii) as in the earlier draft.

Finally, the two further amendments to this section, Nos. 14 and 16, were intended to clarify that the distance of five miles from a site for caravans under the revised paragraph 10(1)(a), or the distance of one mile from any caravan site or other traveller accommodation under the revised paragraph 10(1)(c), location is a radius of the distance in question from the location referred to.

I am sure Members will agree the amendments made have resulted in tangible improvements to this important legislation for the benefit of all the practitioners involved, the public and, in particular, the travellers who stand to benefit most from its provisions.

Ms O'Meara: Information on Kathleen O'Meara Zoom on Kathleen O'Meara I congratulate the Minister on this legislation and place on record our appreciation of his efforts in regard to this issue. In this legislation he has attempted to move the issue of traveller accommodation forward, particularly at local level. The issue has been a particularly intractable one through the years, not only in the Dublin area but throughout the entire country. In the summer months one can witness the manifestation of the difficulties which face local communities when the traveller population goes on the move, as I believe it is entitled to do. Problems arise for local communities, especially when travellers seek accommodation in places which were never designed for that purpose, on the sides of public roads and so on.

I appreciate the Minister's flexibility in taking on board very worthwhile and valuable amendments, particularly amendment No. 3, which will ensure public involvement in the process at the earliest stages. I also thank the departmental officials for the work they have done on this issue. It is my fervent hope the legislation will be successful on the ground when it is implemented. [638]

Ms Ormonde: Information on Ann Ormonde Zoom on Ann Ormonde I congratulate the Minister for the time and effort expended on this legislation and for listening to the views of Senators and Deputies. I had reservations about the lack of consultation at local level so I welcome amendment No. 3, which requires the consultation of local bodies prior to the preparation of a draft accommodation programme.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 16, which deal with the one mile radius around caravans and the five mile distance between caravans and housing, will be difficult to implement in the Dublin area. Sites will not be available because of their proximity to built up areas. I cannot see how the legislation will work in those areas. We are doing our best to accommodate both sides but there will be difficulties on the ground. In my area there are no sites and it would be impossible to prepare a programme when the area is so built up. Where will the travellers go?

Mr. J. Doyle: Information on Joseph Doyle Zoom on Joseph Doyle This Bill was initiated in the Seanad and passed Committee Stage in the Seanad. The Minister had an open mind and accepted a number of amendments in both Houses.

There must be the greatest consultation possible with the public when settling the traveller community. Only when that consultation occurs can travellers be successfully housed. I am surprised one of the amendments clarifies the situation which arose in the District Court where it was argued that the annual registration fee for housing was illegal. That was an extraordinary anomaly and I am glad it has been clarified by the Bill.

Mr. O'Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole Zoom on Joe John O'Toole It is crucially important that we recognise the work done by the Minister in dealing with this legislation. It is progressive and meets many needs. It will create problems, as all legislation does, but it is a realistic approach to an important social and public need. The Minister and the Department are to be congratulated.

Ensuring there is a proper flow of information, as outlined in the amendments, is important. The greatest problem which we have encountered over time is a lack of discussion. The inclusion of representatives of the travelling community in consultations is hugely important to the self esteem of that community. It now has a say in the determination of its own needs.

It is also important that travellers are being seen as part of the wider community. That is the only way to resolve any remaining difficulties. We spoke earlier about the importance of pluralism and respect for the views of others. This legislation reflects a growing tolerance and openness in society. It accepts the travelling community's culture as part of our culture. This involvement will let travellers see that they are not a distinct culture but part of the Irish culture. I know the travelling community do not accept that argument but I believe it is as much part of our culture as the Irish speaking community. This Bill [639] achieves what should be aimed for in all legislation dealing with various groups of people. It specifies the quality of interaction between the group and the authorities.

Amendment No. 15 refers to the building of temporary dwellings which are likely to obstruct or interfere with the use of public or private amenities or facilities. In south Dublin a house for travellers was erected around an ESB pole. The pole came through the floor, the first ceiling and went out through the roof of the house. As the Minister will know from experience, at the end of the day nobody was responsible. This building certainly obstructed public and private amenities in that it interfered with the electricity service. The pole was less than ten feet from parts of the house. Every building regulation in the book was broken and when the ESB found out about it, the electricity was cut off within two hours. Does it represent a lack in the legislation that the authority could find itself in breach of the regulations? Who was responsible? Did the local authority have the power to demand the ESB move the pole or did the ESB have the authority to insist the pole remained there? In the implementation of amendment No. 15, if we find houses built around ESB poles and there is a cost involved, who pays that cost? The taxpayer, the local authority or the ESB? I do not object to the amendment but it is unclear who is responsible.

When the local authority set about building houses for the travelling community, houses which were badly needed, it came up against a block. In amendment No. 1 there is a stipulation that plans must be implemented within a certain period of time. Amendment No. 15 states that dwellings should not obstruct or interfere with public or private amenities. Now a local authority attempting to discharge its responsibilities and build the type of housing required by the travelling community finds itself blocked by another public utility. This is ridiculous. I am not asking the Minister of State to comment on a particular case as I do not expect him to know the details. However, will he clarify whether local authorities have the power to insist that public utilities move?

Mr. Moylan: Information on Pat Moylan Zoom on Pat Moylan I welcome the Minister of State and the amendments to this Bill which has been discussed at length in the House. The emphasis on public involvement is a welcome inclusion in the Bill as it enables the public to accept developments in their areas. Section 31 includes provision for a five mile radius and there is now an onus on local authorities to provide temporary serviced sites to enable the travelling community to move off the side of the road. Most of them would gladly do so if the services were provided and the onus is now on local authorities to do so. I also welcome the fact that the Minister of State has included a one mile radius which gives powers to local authorities and enables residents to accept sites.

[640] I welcome this legislation and compliment the Minister of State on its introduction. I hope that local authorities will take on board their responsibilities to ensure that travelling and semi-settled travelling people are looked after on halting sites. I hope that this is only the first stage and that these people are moved to proper housing in a short period of time and integrated into society. This is the direction in which events are moving. Travellers, particularly younger travellers, want to move in that direction. I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister of State and his officials. I hope that it is passed and that action is quickly taken as a result.

Mr. Molloy: Information on Robert Molloy Zoom on Robert Molloy Tá mé buíoch de na Seanadóirí ar fad as ucht an fháilte a chuir siad roimh an Bhille seo agus go háirithe as ucht na moltaí a chuir siad chun cinn le linn na díospóireachta. Rinne mé gach dícheall aird a thabhairt ar na moltaí sin agus an Bille á phlé agam sa Teach seo agus sa Dáil ina dhiaidh sin. Leis an fhírinne a rá is dócha gurb é sin an fáth go bhfuil mé ar ais anseo le leasuithe ar an mBille.

Tá súil agam go mbainfidh an pobal agus an lucht siúil tairbhe as na moltaí atá sa Bhille agus go n-oibreoidh na húdaráis áitiúla go dícheallach chun an polasaí atá á leagadh amach a chur i gcríoch. Glacaim leis go dtógfaidh sin tamall ach mar sin féin má chuirtear chuig na pleananna atá leagtha amach le haghaidh tréimhse cúig bliana ní bheidh aon easpa airgid ann ó thaobh an Rialtais de. Tá se tábhachtach go mbeadh gach éinne sna contaethe éagsúla agus sna húdaráis áitiúla, an pobal i gcoitinne, na daoine atá tofa, na hoifigigh, an lucht siúil agus iad siúd atá ag cabhrú leo, ag obair as lámha a chéile chun na haidhmeanna sa Bhille a bhaint amach. Tá sé scannalach agus náireach go bhfuil níos mó ná míle clann fágtha fós ina gcónaí ar thaobh an bhóthair.

Níl éinne sa Teach seo sásta leis sin agus tá dualgas sóisialta orainn cabhrú leo ó thaobh polasaí oifigiúil de. Tháinig na moltaí atá taobh thiar den Bhille chun tosaigh nuair a bhí an Rialtas deireannach i réim agus glacaim buíochas leis an iar-Aire as ucht an réamh-obair a déanadh ag an am agus a réitigh an bealach don Roinn an Bille a chur le chéile.

Tá an Bille os ár gcomhair anois tar éis díospóireachtaí sa dá Theach agus tá feabhas ar an mBille dá bharr sin.

I thank Senators for their welcome for the Bill and their contributions and co-operation in ensuring a relatively smooth passage for the legislation. I appreciate the all-party support which the Bill received since initiated in this House on 27 March 1998. Senators will accept that I listened carefully to the points made and was happy to accept some of the amendments proposed. Further amendments were subsequently made, the seeds of many of which were sown in this House. The debates on the Bill were stimulating and worthwhile and we have emerged with a Bill which is a significant step forward in the Government's [641] commitment to providing a more inclusive society.

The success of the Bill can only be judged on the extent to which it is implemented locally. I assure Senators that I will do all in my power to ensure that housing authorities have the necessary advice, guidance and support to meet the Bill's objectives at the earliest possible date. The measures to be put in place at local level will involve a commitment from all concerned — housing and other public authorities, travellers and the public. There is no reason for any of the players to opt out as the Bill recognises and provides a role for each and I hope they will live up to the expectations during the next five years.

Reference was made to the one and five mile radii and the lack of sites. The one mile provision authorises the removal of unauthorised dwellings which are parked within one mile of facilities provided under the five year programme. It does not specify that people have to be brought to any particular site, and even if no site is available they cannot park within a one mile radius. Some Senators may have misinterpreted this provision.

Senator Joe Doyle referred to the rent case which required amending legislation following a court case. The local authority concerned was the Ennis Urban District Council and the Government is happy to have the support of the House in amending the legislation to close the loophole which was cleverly availed of in the courts on that occasion.

I welcome Senator O'Toole's comments on the Government's intent and the wish of the House to introduce progressive, modern legislation to provide proper facilities for the travelling community. It is always dangerous to deal with specific cases, particularly when I do not know the case to which the Senator is referring. I do not think it is appropriate that I should comment on a case when I do not know the details. However, the Bill deals with the unauthorised parking and location of dwellings on public lands. If the case mentioned by the Senator refers to a dwelling constructed on private land, then it could be a case of trespass or more appropriate to planning laws. I cannot comment further without the details.

We are almost at the end of the debate on this Bill. It was initiated some time ago and goes back to the decision of former Minister, Mervyn Taylor, to set up the task force. Deputy McManus acted as chairman of the task force before being appointed Minister of State. As Minister of State she played an important role and took the recommendations of the task force into account. I inherited a process which was under way and I am happy to have been involved in bringing it to its conclusion with the support of both sides of the House. It is significant that the Bill was initiated by one Government and completed by another, so the policy has the full support of all parties.

I thank Senators. I accept the tributes paid to my officials and thank them myself for the extensive [642] work they put in. I also thank the National Travellers' Consultative Committee, which now plays a major role, for submitting recommendations upon which the guidelines are largely based. It has worked diligently on this issue. It has cross-sectional representation, including travellers, and its input is valuable as it ensures that the formulation of policies, regulations or legislation by the Department are based on the full knowledge of the views and wishes of the travelling community and that these are taken into account. It often happens that people who are not travellers and who are not part of the culture believe they have the solution. Measures imposed in the past have not been successful. I hope a new era of co-operation and transparency has come about, in which greater progress can be made.

Question put and agreed to.

Question, “That the Bill do now pass”, put and agreed to.

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