Rights watchdog publishes equality review on Traveller accommodation

Rights watchdog publishes equality review on Traveller accommodation

Sinéad Gibney

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has published an equality review of Ireland’s local authorities, focused on their provision of Traveller-specific accommodation.

The accounts have been published alongside the Commission’s annual report, and includes specific recommendations for action by local authorities.

The Commission launched these equality reviews back in 2019 following evidence of a consistent underspend of the Traveller-specific accommodation budget. The aim was to gather information from councils and to allow for a systematic review of the issues driving underspend in some local authority areas, and nationally.

Between 2008 and 2018, of the €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 key issues identified in the Commission’s review are underspending in the draw-down of allocated funds, evidence of poor information gathering to inform decision making, and a lack of transparency for identifying Travellers’ true accommodation preference.

The Commission found that the issue of underspending is being driven by both structural issues in how funding is allocated and drawn down, but also by a frequently inadequate process for identifying actual and future housing needs.

According to the review, 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.

The Commission did acknowledge that the full budget provision for Traveller accommodation has been drawn down by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHPLG) in 2020, however it urged the Department to build on the flexibilities implemented in relation to Traveller accommodation policy over the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney 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.”

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