The Government has been found responsible for multiple human rights violations in relation to Traveller accommodation and evictions.
In a decision to be published today, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights says the Government has failed to provide sufficient accommodation, that conditions are poor in many sites and that Traveller evictions are not handled properly.
The 55-page decision says 21 years after a taskforce identified the need for 1,000 transient halting bays to provide for short duration stays, just 54 are in existence and “not all function as proper transient sites”.
“Moreover, this estimate did not take into account the growth in the Traveller population. Only five local authorities provide transient sites,” it says. It notes that the Government does not dispute the figures.
It also says that 361 families are living full-time on unauthorised sites and that the number of Traveller families sharing housing was increasing, with overcrowding a concern.
On living conditions at halts, the committee says: “A not insignificant number of sites are in poor condition, lack maintenance and are badly located.”
Three of the five violations relate to evictions with the committee stressing that illegal occupants must be given reasonable notice, consulted with a view to finding alternatives to eviction and provided with legal aid.
Where evictions are carried out, they must be done so with respect for the dignity of the occupants, avoided in winter and accompanied by proposals for alternative accommodation. The committee says that Irish law does not explicitly provide for any of these safeguards.
“While the committee notes that the Government maintains that in practice local authorities do consult with Travellers threatened with eviction and do seek to provide alternative accommodation, it considers that in the absence of an obligation to do so, it cannot be stated that in all cases this practice is followed.
“Moreover, there is no evidence that such practices are followed where Travellers are evicted from land not belonging to a local authority.”
The violations breach Article 16 of the European Social Charter which affirms the right of the family to “appropriate social, legal, and economic protection”.
The case was brought to the committee three years ago by the Irish Traveller Movement and the European Roma Rights Centre who made 14 individual complaints, five of which have been upheld.
The committee noted that the Government had rejected the allegations “in their entirety” and asked the committee to declare the complaint “unfounded in all respects”.
Welcoming the ruling, Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, called for the law on evictions to be amended.
He also said an immediate review of Traveller accommodation was needed and said the The National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee should be given powers to direct local authorities that don’t live up to their responsibilities towards Travellers.
“An independent National Traveller Accommodation Agency is vital to provide real results. In light of these findings, the time to that right is now,” he said.
The Government has been under pressure to improve accommodation for Travellers since the Carrickmines fire last October, in which 10 people died.
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