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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 10 Jul 1990

Vol. 401 No. 4

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Travellers' Halting Sites.

Proinsias De Rossa


17 Proinsias De Rossa asked the Minister for the Environment if he has satisfied himself with the rate at which halting sites for travellers are being provided in the Dublin area; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that only three of the 30 sites proposed in the 1986 plan have been established which gives accommodation to only 15 families; if he has received an invitation from the Travellers Accommodation Group to join them on a visit to unofficial halting sites in Dublin; if it is intended to respond to this request; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Dublin County Council have provided eight serviced sites of which three are from the programme of 30 sites referred to. Further action on this programme was severely disrupted as a result of a High Court ruling of May 1988 which had the effect of suspending progress on the programme pending a variation of the development plan. The variation was formally made in June 1989 and this allowed the programme to proceed. The present position is that one site is under construction, approval to go to tender has issued for three more and a fourth, for which approval to go to tender has issued, is delayed by court action. Dublin County Council have made limited temporary arrangements to improve the conditions of some travellers on unofficial sites and I understand that further work of this nature is envisaged.

I am fully aware of the conditions prevailing and I am concerned that the housing authority, who are primarily responsible for the accommodation of travellers, should do their utmost to alleviate their plight. Furthermore, the necessary capital finance is available for any proposals for halting sites brought forward by Dublin County Council and approved by me. In the circumstances I do not consider it appropriate, having regard to the council's overall responsibilities, to take up the invitation referred to in the question.

In view of slow progress being made on the 1986 plan, would the Minister accept that the revised plan of 1986, which was piloted through Dublin County Council by his colleague, the Minister for Communications, is now in tatters and has failed to settle travellers in the Dublin area? Many of the sites which were identified in the plan are no longer available. The time has come for the Minister to take overall national responsibility for the settlement of travellers. He should bring forward a set of proposals to deal with this long, outstanding problem on a national basis once and for all, in view of the failure of local authorities to deal effectively with it.

I have to agree with the Deputy and say I am disappointed at the pace at which the programmes are proceeding. Court action has stalled many of these sites from being made available for travellers. There has always been difficulty in this area. However, some movement is taking place and, as the Deputy knows, responsibility rests with the local authorities. I think there is a genuine willingness on the part of local authorities to do something positive, but they are being frustrated not only in Dublin but throughout the country. This would apply no matter who is in charge. Councillors have a right to be involved in the process and I am satisfied that the vast majority of them take their responsibilities very seriously and I think we will see movement with regard to the provision of sites. One must consider that money is available, the capital allocation is quite substantial and is enough to cater for what is required, but if any extra moneys are needed, I will make them available.

I appeal to the local authorities and to all Members on local authorities to try to impress on their executives the need to do something about this project.

Would the Minister not agree that part of the reason there is so much objection to the settlement of travellers is that the Minister has not made sufficient funds available to Dublin County Council and other local authorities to keep the sites in order? Would the Minister reconsider the situation and make capital funds available for the maintenance of the sites after they have been set up thus fostering better relations between the settled and the travelling communities? The reason so many legal actions are being taken is that people do not believe that the resources are available to keep the sites clean and tidy.

This point has been made on a number of occasions. However, apart from the £3 million capital allocation that has been made available to local authorities to provide the appropriate accommodation for travellers, there is an additional £1 million for associated expenses, such as social workers. I think that is a positive step.

What about extra staff in the county councils?

Does the Deputy mean maintenance of the sites?

Current expenditure.

That is a matter for the local authorities and I think it is reasonable that they should consider going down the road of providing better maintenance for travellers' sites.

Will the Minister give the local authorities the money?

That point has been made before and I said I would consider it. Perhaps I will get an opportunity to do that before too long. However, at the same time this is primarily the responsibility of the local authorities and they can do it from within their own resources.

They cannot, that is the point.

Is the Minister aware that the collapse of the 1986 plan and the faults inherent in the plan arise directly from election commitments given in the course of the 1985 local elections by his colleague, the Minister for Communications, and his other colleagues on Dublin County Council, whereby the previous plan was abandoned and a new plan introduced, which four years later has been shown to be totally ineffective and a failure as far as the settlement of travellers is concerned?

Give it a chance, Deputy.

Three sites out of 30 in four years——

Let us hear the reply, Deputy Gilmore.

The plan, which envisaged settlements on 30 sites, was adopted in 1986. The matter was challenged in the High Court and action was suspended until 1988, because it was stated that it was contrary to the development plan. Only when the variation in the develoment plan was put in place, did the settlement plan have a chance of being effective. It is not that long since that obstacle was cleared and since then, as I have stated, several sites have been constructed but a further site is being obstructed pending court action. In fairness, it must be said that the plan was good but it was frustrated——

The sites were never available.

——but I am satisfied there is a willingness now to try to do something positive.

That is not very evident.

Could the Minister indicate what specific steps he has taken in the past 18 months to encourage local authorities outside the city and county of Dublin to provide the necessary serviced halting sites which are so badly required? Has the Minister taken specific steps to ensure that a national approach has been adopted to deal with this very serious social problem?

I share the Deputy's concern and I am continuously seeking to get a better response from the local authorities. I have regular meetings with my advisers in this regard. No later than last week I had a meeting and another meeting is due to be held in another couple of weeks to see what we can do to get better movement in the provision of sites for travellers.

There is adequate capital available to deal with the problem, if the local authorities would take the initiative, and I am pressing them to do so. I think we should do so collectively from this House.

Will the Minister discuss with some of the Fianna Fáil councillors their attitude to this problem?

The difficulties are not confined to councillors on this side of the House.

The Minister has suggested that he would invite local authorities to reconsider the situation. Would he not consider inviting representatives of the local authorities to visit the halting site in County Laois, because the action taken by Laois County Council has proved to be very successful and satisfactory? Perhaps the Minister should consider directing other local authorities to see the model we have prepared in County Laois and how Laois County Council have dealt with this problem very effectively.

The Deputy seems to be imparting information rather than seeking it.

The Deputy gives an excellent example of what can be done by effective management and a bit of goodwill. Quite a number of counties have sent representatives to view what has taken place in County Laois and, if I am not mistaken, I was there myself on one occasion.

Is the Minister in agreement with the present policy of Dublin County Council whereby approximately 100 families are being placed in a field? Does the Minister consider this a good policy? Would the Minister agree that he is condoning the setting up of reservations for the travelling people?

Is the Deputy referring to the encampment on Grove Road?

Yes, in view of the proposal that the Minister is giving £200,000 for the settlement of up to 100 families.

I think I am giving a little more than £200,000, but it is near enough to that figure.

That is the figure that was quoted by Dublin County Council.

From recollection, I think it was a little more than that. I think it is necessary and it is purely for a temporary arrangement, as the Deputy knows.

How long will this temporary little arrangement last?

Until Dublin County Council seek extra money to do something better.