The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today published accounts of equality reviews for Ireland’s local authorities, focused on their provision of Traveller-specific accommodation to Members of the Traveller Community. The accounts are published today with the Commission’s Annual Report and include specific recommendations for action by local authorities.
With strong evidence of a consistent underspend of the Traveller-specific accommodation budget, the Commission initiated these equality reviews in 2019 to gather information from councils and to allow for a systematic review of the issues driving underspend in some local authority areas and, therefore, nationally. Between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.
The Commission has now made a series of recommendations for local authorities and has asked councils to report to it by the end of August 2021, specifying the actions taken, or intended within specific timeframes. The Commission will then consider what further action, if any, is necessary.
Some key overarching issues that emerge from these equality reviews:
There is evidence that underspend is being driven by both structural issues in how funding is allocated and drawn down, but also by a frequently inadequate deficient process for identifying actual and future housing needs. Traveller specific accommodation budget provides for renovation and refurbishment work to existing accommodation. Spending may represent renovation or upgrade to existing sites, and no provision of new units of accommodation. Councils highlight difficulties with securing spending approval and reported a lack of a multi-annual budget cycle. There are also stated difficulties in agreeing on specifics of projects (design of site and type of accommodation) and protracted consultations and discussions with residents, and also the planning process.
There is evidence that the process for assessing the number of Travellers in a given local authority area varies from council to council, and that the process itself can be deficient in capturing accurate information. Councils typically base current and future needs on social housing applications and the annual estimate of Travellers in their area. There has been no facility for people to identify themselves as members of the Traveller community on the social housing application form. This lack of an ethnic identifier over the period examined has implications for the identification of and inclusion of Travellers within particular housing streams.
Travellers’ true accommodation preference (i.e. Traveller-specific accommodation v. social housing) is not adequately transparent, nor does it appear to have been independently verified over time. There is a concern that some members of the Traveller community experience a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation, or are exasperated by overcrowding or poor hygiene conditions in such accommodation, and for this reason, feel that they have no choice but to apply for social housing.
The Commission’s analysis of the detailed equality reviews also identifies other specific and systemic issues of concern:
On culture and identity
On mainstream provision:
While the Commission welcomes the full budget provision for Traveller accommodation has been drawn down by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHPLG) in 2020, the Commission urges the Department to build on the flexibilities implemented in relation to Traveller accommodation policy over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission also notes the new Government procedures for the drawdown of funds, introduced in 2020 by administrative circular. It will be necessary to assess over the coming years whether these procedures improve the rate of drawdown for Traveller-specific accommodation.
Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:
“The State’s provision of Traveller accommodation has drawn widespread international condemnation including from the UN, the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU and the Council of Europe. The last 12 months alone have been marked by regular and disturbing reports and testimony on Traveller accommodation, and the Commission’s own legal casework has shown the appalling conditions in which many Traveller families are forced to live.
“The Commission through these equality reviews requested Councils to examine and equality-proof their system for the provision of culturally appropriate Traveller-specific accommodation, and to examine what the barriers are to the drawdown of State funding and how they can be removed.
“Equality reviews allow us to seek specific answers on issues such as local authorities’ underspend, but equality law can also help bring about practical solutions. The Commission has made recommendations, specific to Council’s individual equality review, on how they can use an equality-based approach to improve service delivery.”
Full press release can be accessed here.