PQ: Traveller Accommodation

Wed, January 22, 2014

140. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the impact inadequate accommodation, lack of appropriate accommodation and overcrowding on sites is having on Traveller mental health.  

 Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): 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 that there is an adequate legislative and financial system in place to assist the authorities in providing such accommodation.

Accommodation for Travellers is provided across a range of options including standard local authority housing which is financed from my Department’s Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP), Traveller-specific accommodation such as group housing and halting site bays and funded by means of 100% capital grant, private housing assisted by local authority or voluntary housing bodies, private rented accommodation and through their own resources. It is open to Travellers to opt for any form of accommodation, including Traveller-specific accommodation, and local authority programmes are intended to reflect these preferences.

Local authorities are statutorily required to prepare and adopt multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes for their areas. The most recent round of Traveller Accommodation Programmes for the period 2009 – 2013 was substantially completed in December, with some on-going works being carried into 2014. Local authorities are currently making arrangements for the next round of programmes which must be adopted by 30 April and which will run from 2014 to 2018 . Since the adoption of the third round of programmes in 2009, it is estimated that over 450 units of Traveller-specific accommodation had been provided by end 2012, supported by the provision of approximately €50 million in capital funding from my Department. My Department also provides funding for accommodation related supports which operate in tandem with the capital programme. This year some €6.250 million is being provided in respect of Traveller accommodation.

Local authorities are required to produce annual progress reports which measure the provision of Traveller accommodation in a given year against the target figure contained in their Traveller Accommodation Programme. As part of this process, housing authorities are requested to provide an explanation for any variations between targets and outputs. Local authorities cite various reasons for failing to meet targets and these include Traveller families refusing offers of accommodation, families only willing to live in certain areas where housing availability may be an issue, difficulties in obtaining Traveller agreement locally, planning and legal problems, difficulties in obtaining site access and anti-social behaviour by Traveller families which can delay development of projects. This information is circulated to, and discussed by, the statutory National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee at its meetings during the year; the Committee advises me on a range of issues in relation to Traveller accommodation.

The 2012 Annual Count identified a total of 9,929 Traveller families in the State. In spite of the huge increase of 5,139 families between 1999 and 2012, only 3.32% of the 9,929 families were living on unauthorised sites in 2012. This reduction in the number of families living on unauthorised sites, despite a large increase in the overall number of families, is concrete evidence of the results of investment in Traveller accommodation over the last decade.

The National Traveller Management Advisory Committee (NTMAC) which falls within the remit of my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality issued a report on Traveller mental health in 2013. This report was brought to the attention of the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee and it will be a matter for this Committee to make recommendations with regard to any policy changes needed in the light of the NTMAC report.