National Traveller strategies are quietly binned as local authorities force private-rented accommodation on them – Rose Marie Maughan
A national accommodation strategy for Travellers was developed, following the enactment of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, for implementation by 2000. This strategy was seen by Travellers as a step towards recognition of their cultural needs and, most importantly, as a step away from past policies of assimilation to become settled people.
The 1998 Housing Act provided for establishment of the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee to advise the Minister. Local versions were set up to advise local authorities. Each local authority was to develop a five year Traveller Accommodation Plan which would meet the cultural needs of Travellers in their areas. This would include provision of transient sites to allow for the nomadic culture of Travellers and of halting site bays and group-housing schemes comprising not only the dwelling unit but also facilities to cater for their culture such as horse-keeping, the Traveller economy and nomadism.
At the time there was a commitment to the provision of 3600 units of Traveller-specific accommodation, including 1000 transient bays. But in fact the total number of new permanent units built from 2000 to 2011 was 849, with only 47 transient bays which are often not used as such but rather as emergency accommodation for Travellers. Since the inception of the national accommodation strategy the population of Travellers has grown, rendering the commitments deficient anyway.
We know from the annual count of Travellers compiled by the Traveller Accommodation Unit of the Department Environment, Community and Local government that there were 5150 families in 2001 but this had increased to 9535 families by 2011. There are currently 327 families on the roadside and 492 families sharing with other families.
Local authorities develop plans to accommodate Travellers on the basis of consultation methods that could be viewed as bad practice. They have continuously failed to meet their own targets and what happens? Nothing. They are allowed to develop a new plan in the next phase of the strategy, while Travellers continue to live in Third World conditions.
In recent times what really scares me is that Traveller-specific accommodation seems to be being phased out. Halting sites across the country are being closed down and nomadic facilities are still not being provided. Standard housing and private-rented accommodation are the accommodation options being provided. The accommodation we really want is not being provided, so we settle for what we can actually get.
One Traveller woman summed it up very well recently at a consultation with the Irish Traveller Movement: “Councils take us away from Traveller sites by putting us into group housing schemes as training for standard housing, trying to wash the Traveller out of us, train us to be settled people, so we are ready for standard housing, But this will never happen, If I could travel like I used to I would, and I know lots of Travellers are the same”.
In 2001 there were 293 families in private-rented accommodation and in 2011 there were 2595 families. These figures may look very positive as at times we face discrimination when trying to access the private-rented sector. But for me as a Traveller these figures are very frightening.
Travellers want culturally-appropriate accommodation yet we are being placed in private-rented accommodation. This is not meeting our permanent accommodation needs and, most importantly, not meeting our cultural needs. Young Travellers in particular are being placed in private-rented accommodation. They are often isolated from their families, taken away from their culture and Traveller identity.
Older Travellers fear that their families are being stripped of their identity and that their children are being forced to be settled people and to feel ashamed of who they are. In private-rented accommodation Travellers can’t be nomadic, can’t be themselves.
So I ask you, is this the answer to accommodating Travellers? How can we continue to be Travellers within this sector? This is not the answer. I am calling on the Irish State to recognise us as the Irish ethnic minority group that we are. I am calling for the Traveller Accommodation agency that was recommended. This would oversee the implementation of the national Traveller accommodation strategy and ensure the cultural needs of Travellers are met.
I am proud to be a Traveller and like most Travellers I will not rest until our ethnicity is recognised and provided for. It is in the interests of everyone – the Irish state, Irish settled people, new communities and Irish Travellers – that our cultural needs are finally met.
Rose Marie Maughan is Accommodation Officer with the Irish Traveller Movement