Local authorities have been accused of “knowingly neglecting” the accommodation needs of Traveller communities by the Cork and Kerry Regional Traveller Accommodation Working Group.
The group has said a National Traveller Accommodation Agency must be established as the local authority model of Traveller accommodation delivery “has failed”.
The group also says local authorities have been negligent in providing maintenance for existing sites adding that Traveller sites across the country remain “severely” overcrowded and most pose a risk to the health of the people living there.
Director of Advocacy at Cork Traveller Visibility Group, Breda O’Donoghue, said the last time there was any addition to Traveller accommodation in Cork city was 32 years ago.
She said it is “almost impossible” for Travellers to secure private rented accommodation, saying they are “at the very bottom of the pecking order” for it.
A 2017 survey conducted on behalf of the RTB found 82% of landlords who responded were unwilling to rent property to members of the Traveller community despite the Equal Status Act, under which it is illegal to discriminate against Travellers in accommodation.
Those who are successful usually are forced to have a friend view the property and even sign the contract while others are forced to hide who they are, said Ms O’Donoghue.
“In some cases then when the landlord does realise that it is a Traveller family, they’ll say they’ve had a change of heart or plan on moving back into the property themselves.
“The lucky ones who do manage to keep their rented property do so under the pretence that they’re not Travellers. They can’t have any family members over and they just try to stay low key which leads to really isolating situations,” she said.
Ms O’Donoghue said many do not have access to a toilet, water or showers due to overcrowding.
She said the stress of these conditions leads to “severe” mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse and a suicide rate 7.5 times higher than the national average.
“We know there is no problem with funding,” she said: “We have, very clearly, local authorities around the country not doing their job and that seems to be okay with everybody.”
A Department of Housing spokesperson said full spend of the budget for Traveller-specific accommodation has been achieved for the years 2020 to 2022.
“Capital funding of €18m was made available for Traveller-specific accommodation for 2022. An additional €2.6m was sanctioned from wider savings in the department, bringing the total spend on Traveller-specific accommodation to €20.6m for 2022,” they said.
The spokesperson said funding of €15.5m was provided for the provision of Traveller-specific funding for 2021 and that it was fully drawn down by local authorities in 2021 as was the €14.5m provided in 2020.
“Budgetary provision will increase further in 2023 to €20m capital, representing a 38% increase on the 2020 capital budget. This demonstrates a sustainable funding pathway to support continued local authority delivery,” they said.