I wish to share time with Deputies Martin Brady, John Brady and Conor Lenihan.
Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998: Second Stage (Resumed).
There is no doubt that the question of traveller settlement is one of the most contentious issues in any community. In a great many parts of this city we have made great advances in the past few years. However, provision is uneven. Traveller sites have been located mainly close to or in the middle of working class communities, in communities that have been able to accept them, albeit with certain reservations. The one I know best, Avila Park in Finglas, a 1960s development, has grown to be an integral part of the community where the residents play a full and active part in their community and are regarded, rightly, as participants in that community with the same rights and entitlements as others. Unfortunately the adjacent local authority, Fingal County Council, has over the years developed a practice, which I am glad is being counteracted in this Bill, of locating sites literally on the border between Fingal County Council and Dublin Corporation, with no consultation or proper planning. This has created unease among the settled community and has greatly annoyed the travellers who are settled in housing schemes and halting sites in the area. They regard it as totally unfair that they should be treated in that way.
The Bill is important in a great many respects. It puts traveller accommodation on the same level playing pitch as other accommodation provided by local authorities. I welcome this. It is transparent and up front, and all the members of the community have an opportunity to co-operate in formulating a plan for assessing the needs of the travelling community. It is significant that the Pavée Point Traveller Centre and the Irish Travellers' Movement have both given the Bill a warm welcome. They have suggested some amendments, including that the initial letter of the proper noun "travellers" be capitalised. The Minister should take that on board. It may be only a symbolic gesture but it is an important one.
Due to the time constraints I will limit myself to a number of specific points.
I welcome the inclusion of the development of traveller sites in the planning process albeit under the part 10 consultation process. I would have preferred if local authorities were obliged to go through the full planning process because there would be greater acceptance among the local community if the system were exhausted.
I ask the Minister to consider the possibility of setting a maximum size on sites. From my experience and from discussing this matter with many settled travellers in my own constituency, approximately 20 families per site should be regarded as the maximum. I know of other sites in the Fingal County Council area which are a travesty of accommodation. They are far too big and it is impossible for any sense of community to be developed.
I welcome under section 18 the proposal that two adjacent authorities or more can formulate a plan. That is important because those of us in Fingal County Council, for example, have not had any input to setting up these sites.
I welcome the establishment of the national travellers' accommodation committee and the local consultative committees. I ask the Minister to consider including others, particularly the local communities immediately affected, in the consultative process. I am not certain that the strategic policy committee system suggested by the Minister will be effective. Local residents' associations and recognised residents' groups ought to have an involvement on an equal basis in the consultation process with the travellers' groups. It will be helpful for both sides in that they would be aware of each other's points of view.
The extension of the strong estate management measures in the 1997 Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act is important. Deputy Ring referred to the intimidation that takes place on traveller sites by travellers. We have had a number of very serious incidents, some fatal, in my constituency where travellers came uninvited to other sites and the settled travellers, who are bona fide residents, had no influence in regard to their ejection.
I welcome the measures in the Bill to deal with unauthorised sites. There is a hierarchy among the travelling community, as in every community. There are those who are very poor and there are those who are relatively wealthy. Some provision should be made for dealing with the traders who are quite wealthy but who can set up in an area, as they have done in Dunsink Lane in Finglas for the past 18 to 20 years, and sell cars, tyres and furniture. These people do not pay a brass farthing to the Revenue Commissioners. They tap into the electricity supply very effectively. That problem could be addressed by developing a small number of sites throughout the country where the going rate would be charged for the provision of quality services.
I commend the Bill. It is worthwhile legislation which will contribute greatly to the improvement of the lifestyles of travellers.
I congratulate the Minister on bringing forward this long overdue Bill, the primary purpose of which is to provide a framework and a determined approach to meeting the accommodation needs of travellers.
The public can sometimes perceive travellers as a troublesome lot but that is not the case. There are many troublesome people in the settled community and we should not label everybody in the same way. Sometimes we confuse traders, who live on sites with their £30,000 jeeps, with genuine travellers. If I paid cash for a £30,000 jeep I am sure the Revenue Commissioners would want to know where I got the money. The same rules should apply across the board. If these traders are amassing personal wealth, they should be taxed accordingly and obliged to produce tax clearance certificates the same as everybody else.
The Bill will create a new deal for travellers, promote social inclusion and counter discrimination. Despite much effort, the position in regard to accommodation for travellers is most unsatisfactory. A number of travellers live on unofficial sites in unhygienic conditions. Health hazards abound and I have seen children running around these sites in the muck and dirt. The Bill will go a long way towards tackling that problem.
Local authorities have failed in their responsibility to maintain the official sites. Belcamp and Caragh Park, in my own area, are home to decent travellers who integrated very well with the local community but, unfortunately, travellers from Dundalk and other areas have set up home among the travellers officially residing on the site. That has created problems but the local authority has turned a blind eye.
Approximately 44 per cent of travellers are located in the greater Dublin area. Unauthorised sites continue to be a source of concern to the public because of lack of facilities and so on. The problem of unauthorised encampments is largely related to the lack of permanent accommodation. A great deal of money has been spent by local authorities on traveller sites. They should exercise greater control in regard to these sites but that is not currently the case. As Deputy Carey mentioned, many travellers put their lives in danger by tapping into the electricity supply. I have seen electricity cables stretched across sites which is a hazard. A number of travellers are involved in tree pruning and removing rubbish from households. Unfortunately, they dump the rubbish on the side of the road and the local authorities have to clean it up. If I did that, it would not be tolerated. We must address all those issues.
The Bill represents a comprehensive and balanced response by the Government to the difficulties experienced over a long period in seeking to meet the accommodation needs of travellers.
I hope the Bill before the House will finally bring to an end the long saga associated with the provision of accommodation for the genuine members of the travelling community. As a member of Meath County Council since 1974, a member of many community groups and now a Member of this House, I am confident that the Minister, with his experience and forward planning ability, will ensure my hopes are materialised in this regard.
Some years ago, 144 families lived on the roadside in County Meath. Today ten families live on the roadside although not all those families are permanent residents of the county. Meath County Council has 85 families in housing accommodation in addition to 42 families in halting sites. I wish other county councils would follow suit. While some county councils do a good job, many of them do nothing. Now is the time for a clear, unequivocal definition of the problem. I respect the rights of the travelling community, but I also respect the rights of the settled community. I have a mandate to ensure the rights of the settled community are safeguarded and protected. There must be a clear definition of the people referred to in the Bill. I presume it is the traditional travelling families the Minister wishes to accommodate, and I fully support that.
I wish to sound a word of warning and bring serious matters to the attention of the Minister, the Minister for Finance, the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs. There are now new age travellers, including travelling contractors, who travel in convoys of ten, 15 or 20 caravans and jeeps. In my area in Oldcastle the Fairgreen, which is the access road to the local GAA park and pitch and putt club, was invaded by travellers. In the space of a couple of hours boulders were moved by specially equipped trucks, barriers broken down and an unauthorised settlement foisted on the town. The GAA park and pitch and putt course are now used as public toilets and are unusable for their intended purposes. Local people who used the park for daily walks can no longer do so.
The travellers who moved into the area sell gates, quote terms for tarmacadaming of yards and paint houses and sheds. In many cases they use intimidation if people are reluctant to buy their services. An old age pensioner who lives alone refused an offer to tarmacadam her yard and went to her family for a couple of days to avoid intimidation. When she returned her yard had been tarmacadamed and a man was waiting at her gate demanding payment. All dealings are done by cash.
Are the Revenue Commissioners aware that those people are buying and selling without paying VAT and tax? There are reports that a manufacturer has been ordered to cease manufacturing because of huge sums owed to the Revenue Commissioners. The Revenue Commissioners pass these travellers day in day out on their way to check out the revenue sources of the settled community, but they should also check out these people.
Why has the system become so complicated? It may take up to three months to have legal proceedings instituted to move these people. Why are they immune from prosecution under the Litter Act? Why are they allowed disrupt local organisations, such as those I mentioned, without prosecution? The actions of travellers must be urgently investigated and appropriate steps taken to protect legitimate outlets for products sold by travellers. I hope the Bill addresses this serious problem and the needs of the genuine travelling community.
I am mindful there is not much time and I will confine my remarks to a few sentences. I welcome Deputy Brady's contribution. It strikes a balance in this whole debate. The core of this Bill is the emphasis on travellers' rights. Too often the rights of the settled community appear to be ignored, and that is reflected to some extent in the Bill. That is one of my problems with it. I see the Bill as a welcome, positive move in terms of the five year plan. I accept the principle of the Bill but, like many other speakers, I wonder how effective will it be. I hope we will not have to come back here in a year or two years having experienced the same level of frustration on this issue.
This Bill is a positive step, the first step my party has taken in this regard. My constituency colleague, the Minister, Deputy Flood, played a leading role in evolving this policy. Nobody believes it is a lasting resolution of the difficulties that have existed down the years between the travellers and the settled community. I agree with Deputy Brady it is galling for communities that are over-taxed and have to pay high education bills and so on to have to put up with halting sites which house travellers who own newly registered jeeps and cars. Those sites are supported at the taxpayers' expense. I echo Deputy Brady's remarks that the Revenue Commissioners should regularly visit halting sites to ensure full tax compliance among travellers. Perhaps the Minister will include that by way of amendment to the Bill. Tax compliance should be a condition of the use of a publicly-funded halting site. If any of us appeared with a newly registered jeep, questions would be asked in this House and the Public Offices Commission would investigate the matter.
It is unfair that 39 per cent of all halting sites in Dublin are situated in the South Dublin County Council area. There should be strict limits on the number of sites in each local authority area. A weakness in the Bill is the provision relating to illegal sites. I ask the Minister to reconsider that matter with a view to strengthening the powers to close down illegal encampments. I appeal to him to include the organisation, MEAS, in the National Travellers' Accommodation Committee. MEAS is a relatively reputable body that represents the rights of the settled community. It should have a statutory right to representation on the National Travellers' Accommodation Committee, or there should be a compulsory right of consultation with it so that it can express its views and assist local communities who are concerned about halting sites. I recommend the Bill with conditions.
I wish to share my time with Deputies Perry, Sheehan and Boylan.
I welcome the Bill whose objectives are laudable. It is important each local authority shares the burden of dealing with this problem. I have grave reservations about whether the Bill will work. It is difficult to accommodate indigenous travellers and the question must be asked whether communities will accept transient travellers who move into an area. I do not know what the solution is, but there will be a problem with the operation of the Bill.
There is also the problem that some travellers will not share a common site with other groups of travellers. One traveller family in a halting site may not want other traveller families in the site. This whole matter should be considered in a different way.
I come from a town where 45 per cent of the population are travellers. Limerick County Council deals with this issue reasonably effectively on a continuous basis. There are tensions but there is a high level of tolerance within the two communities. Last year 20 traveller families were housed in the town, which has a population of fewer than 1,500 people. We must examine why there is a rift between the travelling community and the settled community, which was not always the case. When I was young travellers were welcomed in rural areas — Deputy Hayes referred to this matter — but now the settled community is concerned about the presence of travellers. That is feeding through to travellers who behave in an appropriate way towards the settled community. We often talk about respecting the culture of travellers, but they must also respect the culture of the settled community. The Government must appoint experts to examine, from a sociological point of view, the different perceptions of the travelling and settled communities. This legislation will not work unless such an examination is carried out. The Minister of State, Deputy Flood, stated earlier that he hoped this matter would not be politicised at the next council elections. I assure him it will be brought up on the doorsteps.
The Minister of State should visit Rathkeale where there are more than 600 travellers in a town of 1,500 people and that figure can increase to 1,000 at Christmas time. There is a degree of tolerance and understanding of travellers in Rathkeale; some are even ministers of the Eucharist. However, there are some tensions and difficulties in the area.
We must study the differences between the two communities before we impose solutions that will create conflict and flashpoints. We must devise solutions that take account of the various needs of travellers. For example, we must deal with the problems they encounter in getting hotels to hold wedding receptions and so on. The settled community do not like to see large numbers of horses and caravans moving into an area. Also, elderly people who live on their own live in fear, sometimes for no reason, when travellers move into their area. All these matters must be addressed to complement what the Minister of State is doing. I am not suggesting what he is doing is wrong, I am merely saying it will not work because the other areas are not being addressed.
Travellers have a right to their culture, but because of that they will remain marginalised. Their women will always be subordinate to their men and their children will be greatly disadvantaged. While I do not agree with its entire contents, the Minister of State should read a letter printed in today's edition ofThe Irish Times from a Dublin Fianna Fáil councillor.
The Bill, which was published on 31 March, provides for a number of changes in the legislation relating to travellers. Under its provisions, Sligo County Council will be obliged in consultation with travellers to prepare and adopt a five year programme for the provision of traveller accommodation in its area. It is important that the wider community is involved in the debate. It also provides for a public consultation process in respect of draft traveller accommodation programmes.
The management and maintenance of halting sites is very important. The Bill requires county councils to take reasonable steps to ensure the programmes adopted are implemented. Councils will also be required to set up traveller accommodation consultative committees comprising members, officials and travellers. The Minister of State should consider appointing well established community representatives as well as representatives from the Catholic Church to those committees.
Planning legislation will be amended to include objectives relating to the provision of traveller accommodation in county development plans. I am pleased the general public will be able to see the development plans. The Bill also gives councils the power to deal with unauthorised temporary dwellings. Councils must take the law in their hands and deal effectively with unauthorised camping sites. The Bill will extend powers to the council to deal with anti-social behaviour. These powers are currently provided under the housing Acts. Sligo County Council does not have the power to deal with the anti-social behaviour in Ballyfree, Carroroe, County Sligo. I welcome the provision whereby people in local authority houses can be evicted if they do not obey the rules. This law should also be enforced in respect of halting sites.
Councils are requested to make the necessary preparation to establish a consultative committee at an early date. Halting sites are currently located in areas where there is least resistance to them. Essentially, two members of a local authority have a vote and the council can overrule their decision by a massive majority and provide a halting site in an area. I am pleased each county will now be required to play its part in providing accommodation for travellers. Only a number of counties currently play their part. The Department should insist that councils play their part. It would take the pressure off the counties who play their part and it would prevent travellers from moving to areas where sites are not provided.
The consultative committee will provide a forum for the opinions and desires of travellers to be an integral part of any accommodation programme adopted. Provision should be made for a public input into the preparation or amendment of the accommodation programme. People should be consulted about what is happening. This and the previous provision should avoid the need for legal action against local authorities in their attempt to provide traveller accommodation. A halting site was provided in Ballyfree at a cost of £500,000. It is now a sales area for batteries and so on. That is unfair to the residents of the area.
In some counties local authorities impose a halting site in a particular area. There should be an integrated plan within each country. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult for the Minister of State to predict the needs of travellers over a five year period.
While I accept this does not relate to accommodation needs, the right of travellers to be served by the licensed trade is another cause for concern. There are many other issues that need to be addressed. The responsibility rests on the Government to ensure the travelling community is integrated into society. However, as Deputy Neville pointed out, the travelling community has a duty to live up to its responsibilities. That is where the real problem lies. Travellers locate in good halting sites and abuse the law left, right and centre. The Minister of State should consider mending the housing laws to include a provision whereby people can be evicted from halting sites for anti-social behaviour.
I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing the Bill before the House. It is a step in the right direction. There is a great deal of unrest in so far as travellers are concerned. When I attended school they were known as the knights of the road; today they are known as high-powered dealers who sell gates, feeding troughs, television sets, batteries, copper, lead and so on. They store these items in huge mounds along the roadside, perhaps adjacent to housing estates. In some parts of the country the public are fed up with travellers.
I have no objection to giving them their rights, but they should be taught how to conduct themselves properly and respect the needs of the general public. Some of them do not respect themselves, not to mention the general public. Convoys of travellers comprising 40 or 50 exquisite caravans and mobile homes frequently travel from one end of the country to the other and cause mayhem when they arrive in a small town or village. The gardaí seem to be powerless to move them from one place to another.
Many travellers in halting sites move to the beaches in the summer. If travellers are in a recognised halting site, they should be told to stay there or move to another such site. They should not be allowed to move to the beaches where they terrorise tourists and local people. That happens in parts of my constituency of Cork South West and the local people are fed up with it. This should not be tolerated, particularly if they are permanently located in approved halting sites.
Many new age travellers travel 40 or 50 miles in jeeps and trucks to congregate on the beautiful beaches in west Cork, while others come in horsedrawn caravans with goats and dogs tied behind them. They hold rave parties and it is often possible to hear the loud music five miles away. They do not seem to have any consideration for the people living in tourist caravan parks adjacent to them, nor do they realise they are breaking the law. It could take the gardaí three or four days to move them because they cannot root them out from the sand dunes on the beaches. This is causing great trouble in my area.
(Wexford): The Deputy should not be a spoilsport.
Cork County Council has played its part in tackling this problem. It has done its best to create halting sites and special areas for travellers but they will not stay there. The council received applications for rehousing in Bantry, Skibbereen and Clonakilty from some travellers, but it was only after they were processed that it discovered they had a house in Rathkeale.
One of the major sporting events in the south west is Ballybuighe races which are held on the bank holiday Monday in August. However, the citizens of Dunmanway must put up barriers at every entrance to keep these hooligans out because they cause a rampage. I agree with giving travellers their rights, but I also want to preserve the rights of our citizens.
I am glad of the opportunity to make a brief contribution on this important Bill. This is an emotive issue. While I do not wish to disparage any Member's contribution, no amount of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth will solve the problem we are facing because we need positive action.
As a member of Cavan County Council and Cavan Urban District Council, I know positive action has been taken. A complex of 11 bungalow units, a courtyard and a small field, where the children keep ponies, has been provided off the centre of Cavan town for itinerant families. A manager looks after it and the families take great pride in how it is organised. They are extremely happy there and their children are going to school. If it is possible to do that in Cavan, why does every local authority not provide a complex for itinerant families in their areas? Families such as the Cawleys and Maughans who are well known in the Cavan and Longford areas, have settled in this complex. This problem has been resolved satisfactorily in Cavan.
Although visitors from Longford, Monaghan, Meath and Leitrim are welcome, they come in large convoys of four wheel drives, newly registered vans and mobile homes. They usually have gates and other paraphernalia with them. As more local communities and tidy towns committees close off areas and put up boulders to prevent illegal parking in places where these people traditionally stopped because they want to develop them for tidy towns competitions, itinerant families will be forced to park along principal roads which are extremely dangerous. Sooner or later a car or lorry will hit these unfortunate people and then everyone will be up in arms.
There would be fewer families along the roads if more local authorities accepted their responsibilities. Deputy Conor Lenihan said that 40 per cent of the itinerants of County Dublin are in his electoral area. It is unfair that one electoral area should be expected to accept responsibility for the entire county. People in Castleknock or Dublin 4 will say they cannot provide sites for such families. However, if we can do it in Cavan, it can be done in every other county.
The families in the development in Cavan town often have visitors which is understandable. We will not solve this problem overnight but travellers can be integrated. The Cawley family, for example, has moved into a housing estate and has settled in extremely well. They are excellent people in their own right. They are used to travelling because that is how they grew up.
There are people in all walks of society, even in the settled community, who will create trouble. However, once that trouble is caused by an itinerant family, it is blown out of all proportion. Unfortunately, there is a view that serious crime is caused by itinerants. It is wrong to blacken them in this way.
There is a solution to this problem. I invite the Minister and his officials to visit Cavan to see what we have done to try to resolve it.
I wish to share my time with Deputy Browne from Wexford.
I welcome the sentiments expressed in the Bill. We are all familiar with the lifestyle of travellers. I agree that the conditions in which they live must be addressed and improved. It is appropriate, therefore, to seek to ensure that the disadvantaged community gets equal rights and opportunities. It is also important that we have equality before the law as some of the difficulties experienced relate to a perception that this does not apply.
The Bill deals with accommodation but the solution will not be found in accommodation alone. In the past the issue was examined on a statistical rather than a comprehensive basis. One must accept that the settlement of travellers is important. There must be proper and adequate education for traveller children and home management courses so that they have better prospects and opportunities than their parents.
I take this opportunity to congratulate the Kerry Diocesan Youth Centre, which is one of the many groups that play a useful role in providing training and education. It provides special courses for travellers to assist them to participate fully in a settled lifestyle. These courses will also be the key to employment which will be essential to help them change their lifestyle.
We have based our economic development over the past decade on partnership. Those of us involved in local authorities who have grappled with the traveller issue for many years will be aware that without a partnership approach we are doomed to failure. I welcome the provision in the Bill for consultation.
The rights of travellers in the community in general must be examined. The Minister of State did not mention dealing with the responsibility of travellers other than the fact that a committee will be set up comprising members of the Irish Traveller Movement, various groups and representatives of the travellers at local level. Tributes should be paid to social workers. In Kerry, Mr. Jack Tonra has worked extremely hard in the past number of years. Every traveller in Kerry and in a much wider area knows and trusts him because he will deal with them to the best of his ability. He has proved himself to be a tremendous social worker, dealing with a very emotive issue.
I congratulate also Kerry County Manager, Mr. Martin Nolan, who has spearheaded a conciliation process between the settled and travelling communities in Tralee and throughout County Kerry. The issue of traveller accommodation has historically been a highly controversial and contentious one. In the past provision of traveller accommodation in the form of halting sites has led to tension between travellers and settled communities.
In early 1987 a similar situation developed in Tralee as the urban district council decided to make provision for the construction of a halting site for roadside travellers in the town. Given the level of tension which developed, it was decided that a joint initiative between Tralee Urban Council and Kerry County Council would be undertaken. The Kerry County Manager, Mr. Nolan, said it was in the interests of travellers and the settled community to develop a peaceful and productive living and working relationship and accordingly a strategy was put in place to achieve this.
The strategy comprised the establishment of a consultative process. The consultative process was undertaken by a liaison committee comprising all the elected members of Tralee Urban District Council, travellers and traveller representatives, members of residents committees, members of the business community and the partnership company.
At present there are 213 traveller families living in County Kerry. Some 164 are in standard housing, 23 in serviced halting sites and 26 on the roadside. Accommodation of the latter families is the immediate concern of Kerry County Council and the urban district councils. There is an immediate need for halting site accommodation to provide adequate accommodation and services for these families. It has been the experience that the large majority of Kerry travellers want standard type housing rather than halting sites. However, given the number of families on the roadside there is an immediate need for halting site accommodation. No halting site should be developed in a densely populated area, because it is accepted the settled community will object, and rightly so. There are other areas where these halting sites should be developed.
It is envisaged that through the consultation which has been ongoing since September 1997 the various issues which not only affect accommodation but also all aspects of integration will be addressed. Social integration and the development of a peaceful, productive living and working relationship is dependent on identification of all the issues of concern and the development of proposals to address these issues and to evaluate the impact of actions taken.
The consultation process was set up as an inclusive measure for all the community to put forward their viewpoints for discussion and to adopt agreed measures which will enhance the understanding of each other's position. The discussion which has been facilitated through the forum in the past six months has brought forward recommendations for a more integrated relationship between the traveller and settled communities. The consultation process has begun to break down perceptions and areas of misinformation and has informed and stimulated the participants in all the areas discussed.
It is hoped that the recommendations contained in the report, already presented to local authorities, will assist in providing a long-term positive environment for both communities living and working together. It is fundamental that various points be taken into consideration when discussing the future of travellers, education and training courses, accommodation issues, health issues and crime and public order issues. Consultation processes, if established throughout the country, will be successful in time.
I welcome the Bill and wish it well. I hope it can be pursued by the various local authorities, including Kerry County Council.
(Wexford): I wish to share two minutes of my time with Deputy Marian McGennis.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
(Wexford): I welcome the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill and will dwell briefly on the situation in Wexford. From time to time we are told that all the travelling communities originated in Wexford. That is not necessarily the case. I listened today with great interest to Deputies from all sides sharing their concerns about travellers and at the same time talking about council injunctions to remove them from Westport, West Cork etc. If there was more action in some of the other counties in relation to providing halting sites and housing for travellers it would be better than running them out.
In Wexford there are a number of halting sites and housing units. I am not in favour of halting sites but I am in favour of providing proper accommodation for travellers. Under a pilot scheme three or four years ago, eight or ten houses were built in Enniscorthy and allocated to traveller families. There are plans to construct another eight or ten houses in the coming year. Hopefully that will help to resolve some of the problem. It is not easy to get the public to accept halting sites or houses for traveller families because of serious objections and, in some cases, a total lack of responsibility on the part of the traveller community. It will have to be a two-way process in the areas of discipline and education and generally requesting travellers to keep their areas in a reasonable condition.
A recent report on travellers' needs in the Wexford area was carried out by the Wexford area partnership. It deals with a number of areas: site conditions, health, education, training, employment and many recommendations on how the issue could be resolved. Parts of this report are frightening. Some 41 per cent of the families surveyed had one or more members with a long-term illness or disability. The traveller community do not consider that the health service is relevant to them. Some 82 per cent of all families interviewed said the health board services were not suitable. Filling up forms and dealing with those in the health board are problems. I am pleased the South Eastern Health Board is trying to develop a regional policy on travellers' health. Some of the issues raised in the report, such as form filling, dealing with the difficult problem of identifying travellers and the overall health and care of travellers will be taken up by the health board.
Only 1 per cent of traveller children attend second level school whereas 70 per cent to 90 per cent attend primary school. This is alarming and a matter that should be looked at by the Minister for Education and Science. In this House we tend to deal with traveller accommodation which is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment and Local Government and local authorities. There is a need to broaden the whole area of dealing with travellers and to involve the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Education and Science, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment with the Minister for the Environment and Lodal Government to tackle the real problems faced by travellers.
It is time we looked seriously at building houses for travellers. Some people say they are a traveller community and have their own way of living. However, in the Enniscorthy area the majority of families want to be housed. We should move towards that option and away from unsightly halting sites. The provision of a proper set of between eight and ten houses with a caretaker is a far better way to deal with this problem. In his response, the Minister might give his views on houses rather than on sites for travellers which cause serious problems with the general public.
One could speak here for the next hour on the travellers and their needs, but I will conclude. I ask the Minister to respond to some of the issues I raised.
I also welcome the Bill. I welcome any legislation which advances the provision of accommodation for the travelling community. I have been a member of a local authority for 13 years and I have supported various plans within my local authority to provide accommodation for travellers throughout the county. It is to our shame that I remember that in 1985 Dublin County Council, under the then chairman, Ray Burke, brought forward its plan for two five-family halting sites in every electoral ward of the county to deal with the problem. We always refer to the provision of accommodation as a problem and it is a problem. I know the travellers do not like to be referred to as a problem, but accommodation is certainly a major problem. We would have dealt with the numbers of travellers in our administrative area under that plan within three or four years.
One of the first functions I, as a new member of a local authority, was asked to perform was the opening of a halting site in my council ward. I went simply on the invitation of the community affairs department, but no other councillors turned up and I was asked if I would like to perform the function. I was absolutely delighted to do so. I deemed it a great privilege and pleasure to be allowed to perform that function. It says much about the mentality of local authority members, who would certainly turn up at any other function in their area and who would be delighted to wear the chain of office and preside at an opening.
The record of my local authority, Dublin County Council, is patchy but it is certainly better than that of many local authorities. At the time I was elected, the settlement programme simply amounted to the provision of serviced sites, and I use the term in the most unflattering way. Serviced sites meant Portaloos and skips on green fields in the Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Clondalkin areas. That was where travelling families were concentrated and that was where the council's responsibilities began and ended. That was simply because there were green fields in those areas. There were areas of land on which one could park caravans. One might see it as at least a humanitarian response, but it was not a proper response to the needs of the travelling community.
Various Deputies and the Minister referred to the fact that the huge majority of travelling families are housed in the Dublin region. They are housed in extremely bad circumstances in the main. However, there are very good halting sites throughout. One, which is close to my home is in Porterstown near Blanchardstown, is a beautiful site which is well worth visiting. The council used it on a number of occasions when it was proposing additional sites. We brought people, groups, and councillors to see a good site so that it could be replicated and to reduce the fears and concerns of communities and local authority members.
I believe that the local authority has an absolute responsibility to provide accommodation for all, that is the travelling community and the settled community, who cannot provide for themselves. In the past I have stated to various Ministers for the Environment — I remember stating this to Pádraig Flynn — that I believed sanctions should be imposed on local authorities which did not provide accommodation and did not live up to their responsibilities. The proposal, which was not greeted warmly by my colleagues in Fianna Fáil because it was made at a party conference, involved part of a roads grant being taken from local authorities which did not live up to their responsibilities and which allowed families to live on the side of the roads in appalling conditions.
Councillors must have backbone also. I stood up at public meetings and defended the council's policy on the provision of halting sites and defended the proposals in my area to provide accommodation. Other members of my party and members of other parties who took that stance will confirm that they did not lose a single vote as a result. There are no votes to be gained but if one defends a basic human right, one will not lose a vote. People may not agree but they will know that it is a principled decision.
As it is now 5.15 p.m., I must call the Minister of State to reply to the debate.
May I make two brief points? I believe that the lifestyle of the travelling community is wrong. It is extremely hard on women and children, and I would applaud the women and children who will avail of education and health opportunities.
I think my final point has been raised already. The local authorities have 100 per cent funding for the provision of halting sites but they are loath to provide those halting sites when they are lumbered with the maintenance of them. If the Minister wants to encourage, as well as propose sanctions on, local authorities, he must look seriously at providing 100 per cent or maybe 90 per cent finance for the maintenance of the sites.
I welcome this Bill. I hope it will see travellers taken off the side of the road and given basic housing.
I thank all Deputies who have contributed to this debate. I appreciate, in particular, the support expressed for the objectives of the Bill and the measures set out in it, and I have taken careful note of all the issues raised.
This Bill is a clear demonstration of the commitment of the Government as set out in An Action Programme for the Millennium to promote social inclusion. The measures set out in the Bill will ensure that each local authority addresses the accommodation situation of travellers in a planned and co-ordinated manner within a defined timeframe. It provides for consultation with travellers, other statutory and voluntary bodies and the public. All local authorities will be required to adopt and implement five year programmes in parallel with each other. These measures involve a change in policy from the approach adopted for many years. For over 30 years we have relied on the exercise by local authorities of discretionary power with capital funding and encouragement from Government. While that approach has delivered almost 3,400 units of accommodation, there are still over 1,100 traveller families without any official accommodation. The measures proposed in the Bill are necessary if we are to meet the accommodation needs of these families and ensure that future needs are met.
I want to respond to the issues and concerns the Deputies have raised in the course of this debate. Some Deputies referred to the provision for consultation with the public and contrasted these with the provisions for consulting travellers. As I indicated in my opening remarks, there is a major emphasis on consultation throughout the Bill. The Bill provides for consultation with the public in a number of ways. There is provision for public input into the preparation of a draft five year accommodation programme. A housing authority must make a copy of the draft programme available for inspection and publish a notice in a local newspaper advising the public that regard will be had to written representations made within two months of the date of the notice. Moreover, the manager will be required to submit to the members a report summarising any submissions received in response to the notice and indicating how these are to be taken into account in the draft programme.
The public will also have an opportunity to comment on any variations to county or city development plans arising as a result of the proposed amendments to the Planning Acts in relation to the inclusion of objectives for the provision of accommodation for travellers in the development plans. All proposals for development other than emergency works require the prior approval of the members of the authority. The public would have an opportunity to have an input through their local representatives prior to the development going ahead.
In addition to the measures set out in the Bill, the local government planning and development regulations have been amended to provide that proposals for halting sites to be developed by a local authority in its functional area be subject to the public notice provisions of Part X of the regulations with effect from 31 May 1998.
The above measures are just minimum requirements. Under proposals for local government reform, strategic policy committees are to be established by local authorities for each of the major policy areas, including housing. It is intended that these committees will be the main policy formulation centres. There is provision for representation on them by sectional interests outside the local authority structures.
Local authorities may also engage in other public information, awareness and consultative exercises without the express authority of legislation. Local authorities have engaged in successful public consultation exercises on specific issues and have developed a variety of arrangements to suit issues and local circumstances. Members will agree that local authorities are in the best position to decide what is most appropriate. I will be encouraging them to engage in such exercises when giving advice and guidelines on the implementation of the Bill.
A number of Deputies referred to the inclusion of other interests in the national and local accommodation consultative committees. It was also suggested that the local committees should include representatives of the settled community. As regards the national committee, I am satisfied that the composition provided for in the Bill is appropriate. The committee will bring together representatives from local authorities — both elected members and management officials — traveller organisations, my Department and a nominee of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who has overall responsibility for monitoring the implementation of the wide range of recommendations of the Task Force on the Travelling Community. In addition, there will be an independent chairperson and there is provision for the Minister to appoint two other persons with experience of and an interest in the welfare of travellers.
With regard to the local committees, the members of local authorities who will form part of the membership of these committees are in the best position to represent the views of the wider community. In deciding the composition of the local committees I must take account of several considerations, namely, the role of the committees, which is consultative in nature, decision-making remaining the responsibility of the housing authorities and, in particular, the focus of the committees on improving relations and understanding between local authorities and travellers.
Given that a great deal of the work of the committees will involve consideration of matters in detail concerning the assessment of accommodation needs of travellers, the planning, design and management of proposals to meet these needs, the need to keep membership to manageable levels and the difficulties inherent in seeking to identify representatives of the settled community other than the elected representatives, I am satisfied that the composition provided for in the Bill is appropriate. Moreover, provision has been made for public consultation under the Bill.
A number of Deputies referred to the respective roles of elected members and managers under the Bill. In particular, I wish to respond to the suggestion that managers are being empowered to override elected members. The adoption of the programme will be a reserved function and it must be adopted by resolution of the members of the authority. If they fail to adopt the programme within the time allowed, the manager will be required to adopt it subject to any modifications which he or she considers necessary. Members will have ample opportunity to exercise their right to adopt a programme which fulfils their statutory obligations. It is only if they fail to exercise their power that a manager will be required to intervene.
Deputy Gilmore suggested that in the event of a manager adopting a programme there should be an appeals mechanism. The position is that individual proposals developed under the programme will be subject to the planning process which applies to local authorities' developments in their functional areas. Moreover, programmes are subject to periodic review and elected members can initiate such a review. I am also conscious of the implications of providing for additional steps in the adoption process for programmes, the need to minimise delays and the risk of litigation.
I believe local authority members will take their responsibilities seriously and the measures in the Bill will help them to do so, even where there is strong or vocal opposition locally. In particular, members will have the benefit of a thorough and structured consultation process which will ensure that all legitimate concerns can be considered before a programme is adopted. They will also have the assurance that all local authorities approach traveller accommodation issues on the same basis and within the same timeframe. This is particularly significant as in the past the perception that other local authorities were not playing their part helped strengthen opposition to the provision of accommodation for travellers.
In referring to the public notice provisions of part 10 of the planning regulations, Deputy Olivia Mitchell stated that the final decision rested with the manager. I wish to correct this statement. On completion of part 10 procedures, a report in respect of the proposed works must be submitted to the members of the authority. Should members wish to prevent the authority continuing with a development, a resolution under section 4 of the City and County Managers (Amendment) Act, 1995, to that effect must be passed.
Deputy Howlin suggested that section 7 should have an additional subsection which clearly defines the content of an accommodation programme and stated that the inclusion of such a definition would enhance the overall understanding of the provisions of the Bill. Section 10 already contains comprehensive provisions in respect of the format and content of accommodation programmes. It sets out those matters which must be included in a programme, including information on the accommodation needs of travellers. The programme must also include a statement of the authority's policy regarding how the accommodation needs are to be met, a strategy to secure implementation of the programme and specific measures across a range of options, which may include the direct provision and management of accommodation by housing authorities or assistance from such authorities to travellers or voluntary bodies for the provision or management by them of accommodation.
In preparing programmes regard must be had to the accommodation needs which have been identified, including the need for transient halting sites and the family circumstances of travellers. There is also provision for directions to be given by the Minister on any further matters which should be included. It is considered that these provisions adequately cover the contents of programmes to ensure they form a comprehensive, integrated and transparent response to the needs of travellers.
I am pleased that Deputies support the Bill, but I note that a number expressed concerns about its implementation. I wish to confirm that it is intended to implement the Bill as soon as possible after enactment. Preparations are proceeding to facilitate early enactment and the Department will provide advice and guidance to local authorities on their obligations under the Bill.
The question of capital funding has never been a cause delay in implementing the proposals for accommodation. Capital funding in the case of all Government expenditure is subject to the normal requirements of value for money and general budgetary constraints. In respect of administrative and other resources, it should be noted that under proposals on funding of local government, additional funding will be made to local authorities early next year.
The requirement to adopt and implement the local five year accommodation programmes is a statutory requirement on local authorities as distinct from the discretionary power which applied until now. Local authorities must report annually on progress made in implementing the programmes. There is also provision in the Bill for regular reviews of the local five year programmes with flexibility to adjust programmes in light of developments. The local consultative committees will also have an interest in monitoring progress in providing the accommodation required. There is also a requirement to report annually on the activities of such committees.
Implementation of accommodation programmes is a dynamic and transparent process. Programmes are not intended to be adopted and left on the shelf. In the circumstances, I have no reason to believe that local authorities will fail to act on their statutory obligations without reasonable cause. There is already provision under the local government code for action in the event of failure by local authorities to discharge their statutory functions. These are circumstances which could delay implementation and which fall outside the control of local authorities.
The successful provision of accommodation for travellers will remain dependent on the level of acceptance by or opposition from the public to such proposals. The increased emphasis on consultation with the public should help to promote greater acceptance of individual proposals for development. However, in the event of sustained opposition to the provision of accommodation, local authorities could experience considerable delays in implementing programmes.
Deputy Currie was concerned about the enforceability of the one mile provision in section 31. The main purpose of this provision is the protection of travellers who have been allocated proper accommodation and also residents in the immediate vicinity from an influx of other families seeking to be accommodated. The one mile limit, with no obligation to provide alternative accommodation, was recommended in the Report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community. This is the only power in the Bill to deal with unauthorised encampments without a corresponding obligation to provide alternative appropriate accommodation. As this represents a significant departure from the existing provisions of section 10 of the 1992 Act and the position that had been adopted by the courts in many cases, the Attorney General's advice was sought on this provision. On the basis of that advice I am satisfied the one mile provision is reasonable in the circumstances stated at section C, paragraphs 1.1 and 1.2 of the report. A radius of one mile in compass is a significant area, especially in urban areas, and the protection offered is considerable. Depending on the distribution of size or other accommodation it could result in the exclusion of unauthorised encampments from a large area.
The Bill provides that local authorities assess the needs of travellers across a range of accommodation, including standard local authority housing, group housing, halting sites, grants for voluntary organisations and grants to individual travellers under the shared ownership scheme. Many points have been raised and I am sure Deputies will have the opportunity to consider them further on Committee Stage.