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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 21 Mar 1985

Vol. 357 No. 2

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Itinerant Resettlement.


asked the Minister for Health the steps that have been taken to implement the report of the task force on itinerant resettlement.


asked the Minister for Health if he will outline the steps he proposes to implement the recommendations of the Report on Travelling People.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together.

I presume that the Deputies are referring to the Report of the Task Force of Ministers of State on Travellers. The task force were established to advise the Government on the implementation of the Report of the Review Body on Travelling People.

Following receipt and consideration of the recommendations of the task force, the Government set out their policy in relation to travelling people in their statement of 20 July, 1984.

This statement covers the key areas in resolving the problems of the travelling people, including accommodation, health, education, training and employment.

A committee to monitor the implementation of Government policy on travellers has met seven times since their establishment last September. The monitoring committee are representative of the relevant Government Departments and travellers and is chaired by Mr. Victor Bewley.

It is the function of this committee to ensure co-ordination between the various responsibilities of Government Departments, to monitor progress in implementing Government policy on travellers and to bring to the notice of the relevant Ministers any problems that may arise or any delays in achieving targets.

As Minister for Health, I have been given a co-ordinating role in relation to travellers and their general welfare. However, this will not diminish the specific responsibilities of other Ministers for traveller services appropriate to their Departments or related agencies. Thus, for example, my colleague, the Minister for the Environment and the local authorities will still retain responsibility in relation to accommodation.

In regard to health services for travellers, I am making the necessary capital funds available immediately to the Eastern Health Board to set up a mobile health clinic for the travelling community. The clinics are on an experimental basis and will provide a number of services but with a particular emphasis on expectant mothers and infants. If the clinic is a success in the Eastern Health Board area the concept will be extended to other areas where there are large numbers of travellers.

I am also making a direct grant to the National Council for Travelling People to help them develop their work at central administration level.

If the Deputies wish they might like to put down another question on further progress in implementing the task force report in about six months' time.

To what extent has progress been made in so far as the provision of accommodation for travelling families is concerned? How many sites have been provided for them since the task force came into being? Also, how many schemes of group houses have been provided for travellers and does the Minister regard the programme as being on target?

Regarding accommodation, proposals in respect of four halting sites have been submitted to the Department of the Environment. These are at Ballycoolin in Blanchardstown, Kishogue in the Clondalkin area, Ballyowen in Lucan and Turvey Avenue in Donabate. The Ballycoolin and Kishogue proposals have been approved. The contractor is due to move in on the Ballycoolin site and work is to start immediately on the construction of the site. He may have moved in already. Approval of the Ballyowen and Turvey Avenue sites is expected to be given soon. These are all fairly major halting sites. I make the other broad point that compared with 1982 there has been some small progress in the provision of standard housing for travellers. On a standard house basis, 49 houses were provided while 12 group houses were provided. These included eight or nine in my constituency where there has been no difficulty in terms of integration.

However, that scale of activity is not good enough because the 1984 census shows that in the greater Dublin area there are 736 travelling families while on the roadside in the corporation area there are 62 families. In the county council area there are 284 families on the roadside. In the Dún Laoghaire Corporation area there are 24 families on the roadside. This gives a total of 370 families who are living in these conditions. There are 182 travelling families in standard housing while 109 such families are in chalet accommodation. There are 12 travelling families in group housing accommodation and 63 on halting sites. These figures, together with the 370 families who are on the roadside, gives a total of 736. The problem is soluble but we need the co-operation of members of local authorities and above all we need the co-operation of the settled community.

I am very disappointed that the Minister should confine the information to the Dublin area. I am concerned about the 1,000 travelling families who are residing on the roadside, whether in caravans or otherwise. I trust the Minister's figures are not correct because he has indicated that only between 50 and 60 houses have been provided for travelling people since 1982. What action is being taken under his direction, since he is now the co-ordinator of these proposals, to provide accommodation for the 1,000 travelling families who do not have adequate accommodation? I am referring not only to Dublin but to the entire country in this regard?

Despite the popular national impression, Galway has one of the best records of any city or county in the housing of travelling people; but that reputation was marred last autumn when a decision of Galway Corporation to provide a serviced site on the Tuam road for ten families, a decision that was approved and supported by the Department of the Environment, was rescinded by the councillors. On 28 September last, the Galway Town Clerk wrote to the Department of the Environment to the effect that the corporation could not go ahead with the scheme pending the amendment of the City and County Managers Act. We are amending that legislation, but the problem is that there has been so much pressing legislation in the realm of the Department of the Environment that the Minister has had difficulty in bringing forward all the necessary legislation. However, the City and County Managers Act is being amended so as to devolve on the managers the authority to go ahead and provide sites. I will be supporting that measure fully. The Housing Bill has been circulated interdepartmently and that Bill equally will clarify the responsibility of housing authorities to house travelling people and provide sites for them. Simultaneously it will amend the Act so we are doing both jobs together.

I asked about the 1,000 travelling families who are living on the roadside. I asked what action is being taken to provide these people with suitable accommodation. The Minister may assume that I am interested only in Galway but there was no question of my confining my inquiries to that area. Neither was Deputy Taylor's question confined to Dublin. We are anxious to know what action is being taken to house those 1,000 families. The Minister has assumed responsibility for implementing the programme but so far his answer is inadequate. He has now raised another issue that will cause further difficulties, that is, the proposed amendment of the City and County Managers Act. I suggest that the way to proceed is to bring communities together and not to divide them.

I assure the Deputy that my reason for referring to the Dublin and Galway areas is that they are areas of major concern in this regard. The City and County Managers Act, 1955, is being amended in a way that will permit a county manager without the approval of the council to undertake works which in his opinion are urgent and necessary on the grounds of health and safety.

That measure has been circulated among the Departments as part of a housing Bill. It will also deal with other aspects of housing and I should imagine it will be brought before the Dáil without any great delay. The Government have sufficient capital moneys — well over £1,500,000 — available for such works at present. Last year we could not spend it and the same happened in the two previous years. That was because with the exception of one or two cases there was not a local authority who had the moral courage to build halting sites and ask for 100 per cent capital funds from the State. My Department had adequate moneys in reserve for the employment of social workers and public health nurses but none of the money could be spent because the health boards and the local authorities were not involved.

The Minister has not answered my question. In his reply he spoke about giving power to managers which he seems to think will solve all these problems. I repeat my question: it is to ask the Minister what action is planned to provide suitable housing for the thousand travelling families who have not proper homes. The report on the travelling people did not recommend the construction of tigeens but recommended the provision of suitable, standard local authority type housing and nothing less. Surely the Minister must be aware that the county manager is the person charged under the Housing Acts with making tenancies. This is not the function of elected councillors. There is no question of elected councillors having a lack of moral courage in regard to the provision of housing for the travelling people.

How the Deputy can relate this to his original question is totally beyond me. It is a very good speech but it is not a question.

The Minister was allowed to give a very long and largely irrelevant reply to a very important question.

The Chair has no control over the way questions are answered.

Is the Minister aware that county managers already have the power to allocate houses to members of the travelling community? There is no need for any change in the existing Act to enable county managers to fulfil those functions. Nobody is stopping them.

The Deputy is giving information, he is not asking a question.

What is the Minister's response?

I do not want to suggest that the Deputy is being somewhat disingenuous about this. On the co-ordinating committee there are representatives of the travelling people. For example, their education co-ordinator, Sr. Colette Dwyer, has done outstanding work. It is accepted that a mixture of measures are necessary: halting sites are required for those who do not wish to have standard accommodation or for whom standard accommodation on an immediate basis would be a totally traumatic and inoperable provision. Secondly, there is the question of providing tigeens or half-way houses and then there is the provision of standard accommodation. Where a local authority has applied for capital money for the construction of standard houses for travellers, that money has been provided in every case. As the Deputy knows, the capital provision for such housing is 100 per cent. In my constituency, quite recently the Dún Laoghaire Corporation built a model scheme at Shanganagh, a cluster of houses specifically for travellers and the six families are in occupation of the houses now. There was 100 per cent payment of capital moneys for the construction and the provision of infrastructural facilities. The money is there and I only wish the local authorities would come forward. Of course, they may also allocate their ordinary funds to the travelling community in accordance with their housing priorities.

I am passing to Question No.9.

I wish to ask a supplementary question.

I am exercising my discretion under Standing Orders. I am calling on the Minister to reply to Question No. 9.

I did not ask any question.

I have called Question No. 9. This is all a farce.

I wish to point out I have not asked any question.

That is one of the fallacies, that every Deputy thinks he has the right to put a supplementary question.

Will the Chair attribute responsibility for making this a farce?

It is my business to try to make some progress. I ask the Minister to reply to Question No. 9.

I have a brief supplementary question.

I am sorry, I have called Question No. 9 and I ask the Minister to reply to it.

In his reply the Minister said he was making the necessary capital funds available immediately to the Eastern Health Board to set up a mobile health clinic. When does he expect this to happen?

I have asked the Minister to reply to Question No. 9.

In a matter of a month or so. There should be little difficulty because the health board have agreed.