The Government has been criticised for an “absolutely scandalous” lack of new accommodation for Travellers amid concerns the lack of spending will impact the health and safety of families.
Numerous reports, including from the Ombudsman for Children, have outlined the overcrowded and often unsafe conditions on halting sites, and just last week another report illustrated the ‘hidden homelessness’ of many in the Traveller community in Cork and Kerry.
However, according to a parliamentary question response from Minister of State for Local Government Peter Burke to Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, no local authority carried out safety works last year, whether under fire safety or health and safety.
Just 70 Traveller accommodation projects were carried out by councils across the whole country in 2021.
The figures show just 18 new units on halting sites — 13 of them in Galway — and five major refurbishments of halting sites, as well as 10 major refurbishments of group housing.
In addition, there were 15 acquisitions and 16 Covid mobiles provided, as well as two other mobiles, three caravan loan scheme grants, and one special grant, described in the response to the parliamentary question (PQ) as being €3,810 payable to Travellers for the first-time purchase of a house; or 10% of the cost up to a maximum of €640, to a Traveller family who are purchasing a caravan for the first time.
More than half of all local authorities did not engage in any of the above projects, including Cork County Council, and Kerry County Council.
Mr Ó Broin said the figures — provided in this format for the first time — indicated that, in the past two years, local authorities had drawn down the full budget for Traveller expenditure, but it was likely spent on Covid-related measures rather than the long-term solutions many Traveller families need.
“The idea that you would only have a tiny number of new units or caravan loans is absolutely scandalous, and what it absolutely confirms is while money is being spent, what it is not being spent on is the delivery of much needed new homes,” Mr Ó Broin said.
He said overcrowded and unhealthy living conditions are “inextricably linked” with health and safety.
In his response, Mr Burke said: “In 2021, the Traveller accommodation budget delivered new group housing, refurbishment of existing halting sites and group housing, fire safety works on sites and acquisitions (where acquisition is the solution to a specific need identified).
“A new caravan loan scheme was piloted in 2021, the results of which are currently under review.”
However, an attached table in the PQ response confirmed no local authorities had carried out fire or health and safety works. Mr Ó Broin said a principal officer with specific responsibility for dealing with Traveller accommodation is needed.