Dublin City Council hasn’t been providing new Traveller-specific accommodation, despite being allocated funding to do so, even as the number of Travellers living on unofficial sites rises.
There was an almost 100-percent increase between 2013 and 2015 in the number of Traveller families living on unofficial sites in Dublin City, according to the Department of Housing.
In 2015, the last time they were counted, there were 87 families living on such “unofficial sites” in the city, often without access to water, electricity or sewerage.
The council has built no new units of Traveller-specific accommodation since 2014, and has no plans to build new Traveller accommodation in 2017.
It is not for lack of funding. The council has left funding the state has allocated to it unspent.
In 2015, the council spent only €99,162 on Traveller accommodation, out of €366,000 it was allocated by the state, according to figures from the Department of the Environment.
In 2016, Dublin City Council was allocated €1,405,198 for Traveller accommodation. According to the department, they have drawn down just €238,861 so far this year.
The council gives different figures for 2016: by the end of this year, they will have drawn down €638,046. Still, that’s less than half the allocation.
Lorraine McMahon of the Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project says that money is not the issue. She sees the failure to deliver Traveller Accommodation as part of a wider state policy.
“The policy of assimilation is very much alive and well in the Irish state today … [reflecting] the 1963 Assimilation Act,” she says.
Winnie McDonald of St Margaret’s Travellers Community Association in Ballymun says that Travellers in the area badly need a new site or an extension to the existing one.
“We need to have a new site identified in Ballymun to address the severe overcrowding of the site in St Margaret’s, as well as homelessness among Travellers in the area,” she said.
She has suggested a piece of empty land right in front of where the site is – but has been told that it belongs to Fingal County Council not to Dublin City Council.
She is hopeful that a promised refurbishment of existing facilities in St Margaret’s will take place, but doubts if there will be any new site or units provided in the area.
The government recently announced that €9 million would be allocated for Traveller-specific accommodation nationally.
Martin Collins of Pavee Point Traveller and Roma Centre, in a press release, welcomed the increase from €4 million but that welcome came with a caveat.
“We hope this money goes to implementing local Traveller accommodation programmes to alleviate the overcrowding and dire conditions that Travellers are living in,” he said.
“We fear that the funds could be swallowed up in fire-safety works, mentioned in Budget 2017, on existing halting sites, thereby condemning families to living without water, electricity and sewage in unofficial halting sites.”
Fixing Up Existing Accommodation
Indeed, much of the money Dublin City Council does spend on Traveller accommodation goes to improvements and refurbishments, rather than new accommodation.
Under the current Traveller Accommodation Programme 2014–2018, Dublin City Council proposed to rebuild 33 units of Travellers specific accommodation and to refurbish 83 existing units, 76 bays and 7 houses providing a total of 116 units of Traveller-specific accommodation.
So far they have built five replacement houses and refurbished four day houses. Day Houses are properties that accompany caravan bays within Traveller-specific accommodation.
Other capital works include extensions, adaptations, kitchen replacements, yard resurfacing and electrical upgrades and they say they have completely refitted the sanitation units in Labre Park.
DCC say that all houses were insulated and all houses and caravans supplied/fitted with smoke detectors, carbon monoxide alarms and fire blankets.
Residents of Labre Park in Ballyfermot have had years of broken promises that the site would be fully redeveloped.
However, since then the housing association Cluid has become involved, and funding has been approved for the full redevelopment of the site.
McMahon believes that this development will now go ahead, including rebuilding 24 units of accommodation on the site with a community centre in the middle.
Representatives of Cluid attended the site on 1 November to present the plan to the families, so a final stage of consultation with families will now take place before the building begins.
“We are delighted that Cluid are going to be doing the re-development and managing Labre Park … We believe that Cluid will manage the site in consultation with families and when there are issues that need to be addressed they will address them in inappropriate way,” she said.
She adds that she finds the current head of the Dublin City Council section for Traveller Accommodation to be helpful, saying “She demonstrates a will to deliver on the Traveller Accommodation Programme.”
However, McMahon says “The block is way up the food chain … there is no political will at government level to deliver for Travellers in this state – if Traveller ethnicity was recognised then appropriate policies and programmes would be put in place.”
Pressure to Assimilate
McMahon says the majority of the families she works with would choose Traveller-specific accommodation if they could get it.
But some families give up and go into standard housing because they have been on the list for Traveller-specific accommodation for up to 20 years.
“Traveller families chose to live in Traveller-specific accommodation because it is a very important part of Traveller culture,” she said.
“That extended family support network is a critical part of Traveller culture, particularly when you live in a society that discriminates against you at every level on an individual level and on an institutional basis.”
For those who want to continue to move, transient sites promised to Travellers to facilitate their way of life have never been provided. There are none in Dublin, she said. There are also no plans for transient sites included in the current Traveller Accommodation Programme.