PQ: Priority Questions: Traveller Accommodation

Thu, December 5, 2013

5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if, in view of the €50 million underspend by local authorities relating to Traveller accommodation discussed at committee level in May and the current crisis in Traveller accommodation, he will now exercise his powers under section 111 of the Housing Act 1966 to order local authorities to perform these housing functions within a specified period of time; in the event of non-compliance, if he will invest himself with those powers of performance; if not, if he will set out his plans to sort out Traveller accommodation with just €3 million for 34 councils in 2014.

Deputy Mick Wallace: The State has failed the Traveller community and probably never more so than over the past few years with austerity. In light of the €50 million underspend by local authorities on Traveller accommodation, will the Minister exercise his powers under section 111 of the Housing Act 1966 to order local authorities to perform their housing functions within a specific period of time, or invest himself with the powers to make it happen?

Deputy Phil Hogan: In accordance with the provisions of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes designed to address these needs rests with individual housing authorities. The Department pays up to 100% of the cost of providing and maintaining Traveller-specific accommodation, designed to meet the needs of Traveller families.

The vast majority of Traveller families have opted for, and are accommodated in, standard housing provided by local authorities and financed under my Department’s housing programme, or in private rented accommodation with rent supplement support. It is open to Travellers to opt for any form of accommodation, and local authority Traveller accommodation programmes are intended to reflect these preferences.

Over the past ten years, €282 million was paid to housing authorities from a capital budget of €343 million, amounting to about 80% of the available funding, resulting in a quantifiable improvement in the standard of living of Travellers. In 1999, prior to the first Traveller accommodation programme, the number of Traveller families was estimated at 4,790. Approximately 25% of these families then lived on unauthorised sites. Last year’s annual count of Travellers identified a total of 9,991 families in the State. Notwithstanding the doubling of the numbers since 1999, only 3.3% of families were living on unauthorised sites in 2012. That said, more remains more to be done, and I expect the next round of the Traveller accommodation programme for the period 2014 to 2018 will address this need.

There are robust monitoring procedures already in place and I have no plans to change the existing arrangements for the delivery of Traveller-specific housing. The national Traveller accommodation consultative committee, comprised of Traveller representatives, local authority elected members and officials, an official from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and an independent chair, is specifically tasked with overseeing the implementation of Traveller accommodation programmes and with advising me on policy or any particular issue which the committee feels should be brought to my attention.

My Department will continue to review progress by housing authorities in adopting their new programmes in 2014 and in implementing the strategies contained in these programmes. Housing authorities will also be required to carry out a mid-term review of their programmes and to identify obstacles to delivery and ways of overcoming these.