According to statistics compiled by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the number of families in all Traveller accommodation increased by eight per cent between 2019 and 2021. Almost two-thirds of Traveller families were accommodated by Local Authorities or Approved Housing Bodies, 16.1 per cent were accommodated in the Private Rented Sector, 7.5 per cent from within their own resources, 7.1 per cent in shared accommodation, and 4.2 per cent on unauthorised halting sites. With the exception of Local Authority / AHB accommodation, and accommodation provided from within their own resources, the number of Traveller households accommodated decreased in each of the remaining accommodation types (Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, 2022).
In July 2019, the results of the Traveller Accommodation Expert Review were published (Traveller Accommodation Expert Review Group, 2019). In this Report, the Expert Review Group identified as a “fundamental problem” the lack of a strong evidence base for policy making. The direction of housing policy generally, whereby social housing is now provided by way of the private sector, also presents particular difficulties for Travellers as they face “strong barriers” in accessing private rented accommodation. This Report concludes with a series of recommendations on all aspects of Traveller accommodation provision, from delivery suitable to the need; to planning; capacity and resources; and governance. In its Programme Board Update, published in January 2023, the Expert Group noted progress in relation to ethnic identifiers for Traveller households, increased engagement between the Central Statistics Office and Department staff working with Travellers to ensure that the Census more accurate captured the characteristics of the Traveller population, and changes to the Social Housing Needs Assessment process. Progress was also noted in communicating with Directors of Service in Local Authorities to use their emergency powers to bypass problems with decision-making by elected members regarding Traveller Accommodation and the inclusion of Traveller Accommodation in Local Development Plans, as well as a review of funding allocations from the Department in respect of Traveller Accommodation (Traveller Accommodation Expert Group, 2023). These are all very welcome, however there are a significant number of actions that have yet to be progressed, with some reviewed as “Future Work Programme” within the Expert Group’s review. Of particular concern in this regard is the failure to implement an ongoing programme of equality monitoring of arrangements for allocating social housing to assess their impact on Travellers and other vulnerable populations; ensuring that any new national level agency or authority would incorporate a role in monitoring statutory plans and referrals, as necessary, to the Office of the Planning Regulator; the lack of regulations or guidelines for Regional Assemblies and Local Authorities to ensure consistency and integration of the Traveller Accommodation Programme and the Housing Strategy section of Development Plan preparation and development management processes; and delays with the review and reform of reporting arrangements for spending by Local Authorities of allocations for Traveller Accommodation.
The reported conditions experienced by Traveller families, that of increased overcrowding, discrimination within the private rented sector, greater risk of homelessness, and associated health difficulties warrants that this issue be treated as an emergency and that local authorities be compelled to utilise the increased funding available to ensure that Traveller families and their children are supported to live with dignity.
In July 2021, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) published accounts of the first Council-by-Council equality review on Traveller Accommodation in the history of the State (Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, 2021). This review found that, 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. In 2020, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage ceased the practice of allocating specific budgets to individual Local Authorities and implemented a new allocation process following a review of arrangements for the disbursement of funding provision and related supports for Traveller specific accommodation. Since then, Local Authorities can apply for and draw down funds throughout the year (Burke, 2022). While the table of drawdowns provided in response to a Parliamentary Question raised by Deputy Róisín Shortall TD in September 2022 has the names of the Local Authorities concerned redacted, it would appear that while the full central allocation was drawn down in both 2020 and 2021, there funding was not drawn down by every Local Authority.
The primary issue relating to the lack of suitable Traveller accommodation is not that funding is not being made available, as is the case in other areas of housing policy, but (apart from 2020) that this funding is not being utilised by the Local Authorities tasked with providing this accommodation. Stakeholder reviews have been undertaken to identify the type of accommodation most suitable and preferable for Travellers, however it is the ‘implementation gap’ identified in a 2018 Oireachtas Spotlight report (Visser, 2018) that is creating the barrier. This would involve expediting the many areas outlined by the Expert Group in its recent Progress Report and could extend to the development of a specific Traveller Accommodation Strategy, such as that published in Northern Ireland (Housing Executive, 2021).
As with other areas of housing policy, realistic targets should be developed for local authorities to provide Traveller families with safe, suitable accommodation. Discrimination and bias among elected representatives must be challenged and sanctions imposed on Local Authorities who do not access funding to meet developed targets.