Pavee Point said the finding by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Social Rights that Ireland has violated Article 16 of the European Social Charter in its treatment of Travellers confirmed what Traveller organisations have claimed for some time.
Martin Collins, co-director of Pavee Point, said: “This finding by the European Committee of Social Rights is a high-level decision that puts Ireland’s record on Travellers into a shameful light.
“We now need a new approach to the provision of Traveller accommodation — specially as living conditions also impact on people’s health including mental health.
“We urge the new Government in its programme to incorporate these findings into its work on the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy and in drawing up an integrated social framework.”
Mr Collins said figures regarding the number of Traveller people who are homeless simply illustrated the depths of the problem and added: “There is no doubt that we are in a crisis.”
The 55-page decision from the Council of Europe section said that 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,” it said. “Only five local authorities provide transient sites.”
It also noted that the Government does not dispute the figures.
Regarding living conditions at halting sites, it said: “A not insignificant number of sites are in poor condition, lack maintenance and are badly located.”
David Joyce, Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission board member, said the findings were “significant”.
Mr Joyce told RTÉ: “The numbers of Traveller halting sites are not being made available and the ones that are being made available are just not up to standards in terms of safety, sanitation services and management.
“The other area is a legislative framework which really needs to be addressed. It does not provide the legal safeguards when it comes to evictions. There is no alternative accommodation being provided, access to legal advice or legal services.”
Pavee Point said the Law Centre at the Irish Traveller Movement estimates that there are currently over 5,600 Travellers in overcrowded or unauthorised sites as they have nowhere else to go and that even on authorised sites there is limited or no access to water and sanitation, problems with damp, flooding and lack of maintenance.
Mr Collins said: “The programme for government’s proposed working group on Traveller accommodation needs to have strong Traveller representation and could be the place to develop a new approach to the provision of Traveller accommodation.
“We believe that a dedicated Traveller agency is now needed to implement policy across accommodation, health, education and employment. We will be highlighting these issues at the Oireachtas.”