Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998 [Seanad] : Second Stage (Resumed).

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Local consultative committees will comprise representatives of the members and officials of the appointing authority and representatives of local travellers and traveller bodies. The proposed parameters for the representation of each group are intended to ensure a balance of representation and reflect experience of a number of different approaches followed by some local authorities in recent years.

The purpose for which the committees are being set up is to improve participation of travellers in the planning, design and management of their accommodation. The question of involvement by other local and community groups was considered carefully. On the basis that other channels are now available to local communities to express their views — for example, the opportunity for the public to have an input to an accommodation programme and the ending of the exemption of halting sites from the planning consultation procedures which apply to local authority developments in their own functional areas — it was decided that community groups have an adequate input at the general policy levels and to individual projects. The strategic policy committees being established by local authorities will provide a further mechanism for consulting community groups about housing issues, including traveller accommodation. I look forward to hearing the views of other Members on this matter.

Part III sets out some miscellaneous but important provisions, including a provision to strengthen the powers of housing authorities to control unauthorised temporary dwellings and to deal with serious anti-social behaviour on halting sites. Sections 25 and 26 provide for the inclusion in development plans of appropriate objectives for the provision of accommodation for travellers and the use of particular areas for that purpose.

I want the voluntary sector to play a greater role in the provision of purpose built accommodation for travellers. That sector already has a track record in the provision of standard housing and the allocation of such units to travellers. There is scope for their becoming involved in other types of accommodation. The assistance to approved voluntary bodies under the capital assistance scheme is also available at the maximum rates in respect of halting sites. To date, however, no proposal for such a site has been developed, but we will continue to encourage voluntary bodies to become involved in this area.

The basic power of local authorities to provide, improve, manage and control sites for caravans is contained in section 13 of the Housing Act, 1988. Some further clarification of the provisions in that section is required. Section 28 of the Bill, therefore, provides that a housing authority has power to provide sites with different levels of services related to their intended use, including permanent residential sites, temporary sites pending the provision of permanent accommodation, alternative sites during periods of redevelopment of existing sites, basic services in the absence of proper accommodation and transient halting sites.

A new provision is being inserted which will enable the Minister to issue guidelines on services and facilities to be provided on sites. Details of the level of services to be provided will be fleshed out in these guidelines. Revised guidelines on permanent residential caravan parks were issued last October following consultation with the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Group. Preparation of further guidelines in the series is well advanced, again in consultation with the group.

Unauthorised encampments continue to be a source of concern and complaint from the public. I recognise and accept the problem of unauthorised encampments is largely related to the lack of suitable permanent accommodation. The efforts of local authorities, in line with the general thrust of the Bill, must continue to be concentrated on meeting the needs for permanent accommodation. However, there are, and will continue to be, circumstances in which local authorities cannot tolerate unauthorised encampments on health, safety and environmental grounds. Effective powers to deal with such situations must be available to the authorities and are contained in section 3. The improvements proposed introduce a greater degree of flexibility in operating the existing controls which are set out in section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992. Under its provisions housing authorities will be able to take action where an unauthorised temporary dwelling is located within five miles of a serviced site provided by any housing authority or voluntary body and where an unauthorised temporary dwelling is in poor condition or interferes with amenities or is, or is likely to be, a risk to personal or public health or safety. In these circumstances no maximum distance is specified as to where the alternative accommodation should be. Housing authorities will also be able to take action where an unauthorised temporary dwelling is within one mile of any traveller accommodation provided by the housing authority or approved voluntary body.

Powers of local authorities under the planning Acts in relation to unauthorised development, under the roads Acts in relation to safety aspects, and other controls under environmental and public health legislation will remain. Proper management of residential caravan parks and halting sites is necessary in the interests of gaining public acceptance for sites and the quality of life of the residents on the site and in the immediate vicinity. A number of important initiatives have already been taken to promote the use of best practice in estate management in local authority housing schemes. A scheme of financial assistance for housing authorities in respect of the management and maintenance costs for traveller specific accommodation has been introduced. Under this scheme the development of partnership arrangements between local authorities and travellers is being encouraged. These proactive initiatives need to be underpinned by adequate statutory backing in relation to problems of an anti-social nature which may arise on sites. Therefore, relevant powers under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, in relation to anti-social behaviour on housing estates are being extended to sites for caravans, including permanent residential parks for caravans, transient sites and temporary facilities. The anti-social behaviour provisions already apply to group housing schemes.

I have set out in some detail the provisions of the Bill and its background. It 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. The Bill provides housing authorities with a clear legal framework for addressing their accommodation needs. It clarifies their obligations and strengthens their powers as housing authorities. It provides for consultation with travellers and the general public. The Bill, together with the changes in the planning consultation process, ensures that the planning, design and management of traveller accommodation proposals will be the subject of extensive consultation. This is essential if we are to address concerns on the part of travellers and the settled community and to overcome the long delays experienced by housing authorities in seeking to provide accommodation. I am pleased, therefore, to commend the Bill to the House and I look forward to strong support for the Bill and the objectives it seeks to achieve.

Mr. Hayes

I wish to share my time with Deputy Currie.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Hayes

Fine Gael welcomes the publication of this Bill and will support the Second Stage. I congratulate the Ministers of State, Deputies Molloy and Wallace. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, will pass on my congratulations to the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy — I am sure he will regard it as a first. I congratulate him and his Department on finalising the content of this legislation which has been the source of much discussion in recent years.

As the Minister of State said in the Seanad last month, the Bill seeks to implement the broad range of recommendations announced in the national strategy for traveller accommodation adopted by the previous Government. Many sections also relate directly to proposals put forward by the task force on the travelling community which reported to Government in 1995.

I also pay tribute to Deputy McManus for her work in this area of policy during our time in Government from 1994 to 1997. It is not an exaggeration to say this Bill has been in a state of gestation for some time. While Fine Gael will support the Second Reading, we will seek to make a number of commonsense amendments to the legislation when it comes before the Select Committee on Environment and Local Government.

The problem of providing traveller accommodation represents one of the most significant challenges facing local government. One would be foolish not to recognise that when a local authority attempts to provide accommodation for travellers, it will invariably come face to face with a clash of cultures. How local authorities can provide much needed accommodation while, at the same time, attempting to address the genuine fears of the settled community is best described as a circle which is virtually impossible to square. Those of us who make law in this House must be mindful of the huge difficulties which face local authorities and county and corporation councillors throughout the country. We seem to forget that locally elected councillors receive an unfair share of criticism from all sides of this debate. It is crucial, therefore, that when this Bill is enacted, its provisions are watertight, the responsibilities it places on officials and councillors are clear and, most importantly, it will not end up in the courts on a point of interpretation.

It is unfortunate that much of the legislation in this area to date has been poorly drafted and that, as a result, millions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been frittered away in seeking to give force to the law through the courts. That needless waste of resources will only cease when the law we enact is clear and to the point. The Government should make time on Committee Stage to analyse the Bill in detail because of the importance of the point of interpretation in the courts.

This Bill seeks to implement a nationally designed policy for the provision of traveller accommodation. It seeks to put in place a five year accommodation programme in each of the relevant housing authorities. While there has been some progress in the provision of halting sites, group housing schemes and standard accommodation for travellers, the pace of the accommodation programme and the general range of accommodation provided have not followed a systematic national trend.

Some local authorities, particularly in the Dublin area, have provided a range of accommodation to facilitate some people within the travelling community. However, there are countless examples of local authorities which have refused to address in any meaningful way their responsibility to house the travelling community. This can be seen in the latest figures on the number of traveller families who live in unofficial encampments. It is a sad reflection on the pace of progress in this area and an indictment on us all that between November 1996 and November 1997 the number of traveller families living in unofficial encampments increased from 1,040 to 1,127 families.

According to the 1996 census, the total traveller population is just over 10,000 persons. This represents a small fraction of the total population. How can a small proportion of our people be the subject of such a sustained and contested debate on providing basic accommodation and shelter? The traveller population does not represent a significant proportion of the population, nor does it undermine the position of the settled community.

How has the relationship between the traveller and the settled person become such an issue of conflict and discord? There is much misunderstanding and prejudice between both communities which have contributed to a deterioration in their relationship. It is our job as politicians to show leadership. That will require making difficult choices and setting out clearly to both communities the fears and apprehensions of the other. I am greatly concerned that the complete lack of communication between the traveller and settled community has helped to create more fear and misunderstanding, particularly among younger members of both communities.

There was a time when the settled community looked out for the traveller, when it provided clothes for traveller children who were making their First Holy Communion or Confirmation, when it expected a weekly or monthly call from a local traveller in the area and when both communities worked together. However, that is no longer the case. The proliferation of housing estates and the intense urbanisation which has occurred have allowed many members of the settled community to feel that the traveller is an outcast or someone who is so undesirable they do not want to come in contact with them. It is inevitable, therefore, that prejudice and intolerance will flourish.

It is important to see this Bill as an attempt to change mindsets and to actively encourage both communities to engage in dialogue with each other. If we are serious about bringing both communities closer together, we must provide in law an inclusive framework which will encourage and facilitate that. I use the term "inclusive" because there are sections of this Bill which are distinctly exclusive. This State must not attempt to create new divisions between the traveller and settled community. I refer specifically to the provisions of section 21 which allow for the establishment of local traveller consultative committees. By specifically excluding the settled community from membership of such committees, the Minister is giving it an opportunity to opt out of its responsibilities.

This process must be inclusive if we want it to work. We cannot offer a hiding place for people who wish to opt out of the proposed legislation. It is imperative that we seek maximum agreement and co-operation. If that cannot be achieved, section 14 gives the county manager power to implement the programme. My advice to the Minister and the Government is to involve as many groups as possible in the process to increase potential understanding between both communities.

I want to dwell on the issue of prejudice and to put on record the work of a former lecturer of mine, Fr. Micheál Mac Gréil, who, in his recent publication,Prejudice in Ireland Revisited, looked at inter-group relations in Ireland. Through exhaustive questioning and survey work, Fr. Mac Gréil found that only one in seven of the national sample would welcome a traveller into the family through marriage. In a statistic which is of relevance to the issue of traveller accommodation, he found that 59 per cent of the national sample would not welcome travellers as their next door neighbours. I found it astonishing that over three quarters of the national sample would hesitate to seek the company of travellers, while 56 per cent would avoid a traveller in social situations.

Weber said that "prejudice was an attitude, usually negative, about people based on their membership of a group". That is a good definition of the term. If we want to change inter-group relations we must provide in law a place for all groups in society, whether they are travellers or settled people, so they can share in the consultation and decision-making process. We will not eliminate prejudice if we exclude any group from that process.

It is important to outline a number of facts about the traveller population. Some 50 per cent of the total traveller population is under 14 years of age, compared to 24 per cent of the population generally. It is a scandal that only 1.3 per cent of the total traveller population is over 65 years of age. Compare this to 12 per cent of the settled population who are 65 and over. The average age of a traveller in 1996 was 14 years and the average age in the general population was 31 years. The average household size for travellers is 4.9 persons compared to 3.1 persons nationally. Traveller families have 3.5 children compared to 1.8 children for the population at large.

It is clear under a number of headings that the traveller population of Ireland suffer high rates of mortality. It is also the case because of their nomadic lifestyle that health provisions and education facilities are not as available to the traveller as they are to the settled community. It is interesting to note there has been a move in some sections of the traveller population to seek standard accommodation or group housing schemes from local authorities. This form of accommodation can obviously promote a more healthy lifestyle that cannot be found on the side of the road. If people choose a nomadic form of existence it follows that the same standards of social service provision — health, education — cannot be provided.

I found it interesting in recent days to discover that in many counties the vast majority of travelling families live in standard accommodation. For example, in the city of Galway, out of a total of 184 families in its administrative area, 113 families live in standard accommodation. In the Galway County Council area 189 families live in standard accommodation out of a total of 291 families. In the Kerry County Council area 171 families, out of a total of 213, live in standard accommodation. In Longford, out of a total of 137 families, 116 live in standard accommodation. It is not unfair to suggest there has been a trend in recent times for travellers to consciously decide to move into more permanent accommodation, by way of standard accommodation provided by local authorities, or the group housing schemes. Whether that is coming from elements within the traveller community is a matter for debate. We must recognise it for what it is, that consciously a large section of the traveller community is not choosing the nomadic form of existence, as did their forefathers. The impression given by some of the travelling community, that the nomadic way of life represents the life of a majority within the total population would not seem to be borne out from the experience of local authorities, particularly in the west. It would seem that travellers are making a conscious choice to seek standard accommodation from local authorities, for most of the year at least.

It is important in this Bill to say we are not just referring to halting sites in the context of accommodation programmes. Traveller accommodation can take many shapes and forms and if the experience in the west is anything to go on, it would seem that more and more travellers are availing of the option of taking standard accommodation.

The experience of attempting to deal with the problem of finding halting sites in the Dublin area has been severely hampered by the actions of some groups which have incurred colossal legal costs through court injunctions on Dublin local authorities. In my local authority of south Dublin, more than £250,000 has been spent by that authority dealing with actions taken by some representatives of the traveller community. We will not make progress together as long as local authorities have to shell out huge sums of money on legal fees. It is wasted expenditure and it is completely unnecessary. When one considers that the total budget in south Dublin is some £80 million, that the legal costs involved in cases were £175 million in 1997, and the cost involved in dealing with unauthorised sites is in excess of £300,000, one can see it is a huge drain on local authorities. That sum of money cannot be recouped from the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

If a traveller moves from Galway to South Dublin County Council I regard that as a national issue but my local authority cannot seek recoupment from the Department of the Environment and Local Government of the costs associated with unofficial sites in my council area. This is of great concern to local authorities. It is a drain on their expenditure. It is now the case that within community departments throughout most Dublin authorities a considerable period is wasted on court injunctions. Is it in the common good that those injunctions be taken, particularly when we require people to work together?

Respect is a two-way process. There has been an obvious lack of respect among the settled community for the traveller community in recent times. That is clear from the work completed by Fr. Mac Gréil on the social distance between the two groups. There has also been a lack of respect among travellers for the settled community. There are norms within the settled community that have to be respected. It is a point of considerable discord for residents throughout the Dublin area and other parts of the country that public spaces are destroyed, as a result of unofficial sites. This does not help to engender good relations between both communities. Respect is a two-way process. We have to work on this together. I hope, in the course of Committee Stage through the various amendments proposed by my party, we will enshrine in the legislation that respect and mutual understanding which is a two-way process.

I too welcome the Bill and congratulate the Minister on bringing it forward. I congratulate and thank also Deputy Liz McManus for her work in this area as chairperson of the task force prior to becoming a Minister of State. I will hone in on a number of matters but will not cover the entire Bill. It is unfortunate that a number of local authorities have to be forced to live up to their responsibilities. That is the reality we have to face. Without the legislation and without being forced to do so they will not live up to their responsibilities. I hope the Bill has no loophole which would enable any council to avoid its responsibilities. I had thought the number of travelling families on the roadside was decreasing because of the provision of accommodation in recent years. On reading the Seanad debate I was surprised to find this is not the case. In the past five years, while an additional 849 families have been provided with accommodation, in the same period the number of traveller families on the roadside has fallen by only 53 from 1,180 to 1,127 families. That was a source of some surprise to me. I am not sure I fully understand the reasons and perhaps the Minister in his reply will explain the situation.

Deputy Hayes referred to the health problems of the travelling community. This is a matter to which too much attention cannot be paid. He has elaborated on some of their specific problems, for example, that only two out of every 100 travellers live to 65 years of age. The infant mortality rate is nearly three times the national average. Sixty-five years of age was the life expectancy level which people had as far back as the 1940s. These statistics make depressing reading. We cannot fudge the issue. We have got to deal with the health problems of the travelling community. I am particularly concerned about the position of children. As a former Minister of State with responsibility for children I give some thought to this issue on occasions, particularly on cold, wet or frosty mornings, when passing certain encampments where children are running around half naked. Surely we and the Minister for Health and Children have some responsibility in this matter? Adults can look after themselves as they, in most instances, have made a choice that this is the lifestyle they want but the children have no choice in the matter, the choice is made for them.

I recognise there is a certain sensitivity here. People say that travellers have a right to their culture. I understand and I accept that. My experience in the North of Ireland would probably make me realise that more than other people. The necessity to accommodate difference is extremely important. However, where culture leads to a situation in which young people are deprived, where they do not have a choice in the matter and living the sort of lives which these children are forced to live, then I wonder if the word "culture" deserves to be used in this context.

I am forced to go back to something which I repeated many times as the Minister of State with responsibility for children, that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. That must be our attitude in relation to these matters and we should follow that through. Why should children of travellers be treated differently from other children when it comes to the conditions in which they live? Why is there the attitude that these are the children of travellers and travellers choose to live in this manner? Some of them are forced to live this way but some of them choose to live in this manner. The welfare of the child is the paramount consideration and we should bear that in mind all of the time.

I welcome the commitment in this Bill to improve the conditions in which the travellers live. That is a priority as far as health is concerned. We all, and particularly the members of local authorities, have a responsibility in this matter.

I welcome the consultation with the travellers, but I wonder why there is no reference to consultation with local residents. I can see circumstances where it might be difficult to have meaningful consultation with some local residents because of their attitudes, but there are other local residents who have a different attitude and wish to be helpful. I fear that for some the lack of consultation will be an excuse for a negative attitude. Indeed, it may be a justification for being negative. I ask the Minister to have another look at this matter.

I welcome the new measures proposed in sections 31 to 34 relating to unauthorised encampments and anti-social behaviour on sites. There must be legislation to cover a situation where such encampments are a threat to the residents living in them and to other people living close to them on health, safety and environmental grounds. The public authorities must have the power to deal with these threats.

In that context, I regret the attitude of one traveller support group in particular — I am not sure whether this is the traveller support group to which Deputy Hayes referred — which made representations to me and sought the deletion of section 31. This is an irresponsible and ostrich like attitude because to delete section 31 is to say that there is no problem here. It is an attempt to ignore the problem and one will never solve a problem by ignoring the reality. I am surprised that these people have made representations along these lines.

I particularly welcome the proposal that no unauthorised encampments will be allowed within a mile of an official halting site. This proposal was made by the Task Force on the Travelling Community for the protection of travellers who have been allocated proper accommodation as well as the protection of the residents in the vicinity. As I understand section 31, there is no obligation to provide alternative accommodation for those who have encamped within a one mile radius of a proper legal site. They must be removed if necessary to a spot outside the one mile radius. This represents such a departure from previous legislation and recent court decisions that I must press the Minister on this matter. Is he sure of his legal position? Deputy Hayes referred to the number of court cases and the amount of public money which has been spent on them. What is the advice of the Attorney General in this matter — I assume the Attorney General has been consulted? Is the Minister sure a coach and four will not be driven through these provisions?

Assurances have been given to local residents in the past which have proved to be worthless. A letter to an association in my area, the Ballyowen Residents' Association, at a time when a halting site was being located there states that as previously confirmed to the association, the council, which is now South Dublin County Council, guarantees that Ballyowen Lane will be kept free of unauthorised caravans once the site has been opened and that any unauthorised caravans arriving in the lane will be removed within 48 hours. Those assurances have proved not to be worth the paper on which they were written. I want an assurance from the Minister that the circumstances, which I could outline, at Ballyowen Lane will not happen again. I want to be absolutely sure that the Minister has the right legal advice in relation to this matter and that these provisions will be implemented. If we pass this Bill — there is no reason we will not do so because it will have the support of Fine Gael — when will this part of the Bill be brought into force? I want the total, unequivocal assurance and commitment of the Minister that encampments of this nature will not be allowed in future within a mile radius of a halting site. I ask for that assurance not only in the interests of people who live close to these halting sites but of the inhabitants of the halting sites.

I welcome the Bill which the Labour Party will not oppose on Second Stage. As the Minister of State said, the Bill sets out to implement the national strategy for traveller accommodation which was adopted by the previous Government, of which I had the honour of being a member. The accommodation strategy was an integral part of the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community which presented its report to the previous Government in July 1995. This task force was established by my friend and colleague, former Deputy Mervyn Taylor. Since his name has not been mentioned in the House this morning, I want to pay tribute to Mervyn for the wonderful work he did not only in relation to addressing the needs of the travelling community but of so many other minority groups. The establishment of a Department of Equality and Law Reform and giving the stewardship of that Department at its inception to a person of the calibre of Mervyn Taylor was one of the most important decisions of Government in recent times. The task force report represents a blueprint for great change across a range of Departments in respect of one of the most serious social issues we must address, namely, how to assimilate, accommodate, recognise the diversity of and provide for the needs of the travelling community. I salute Mr. Mervyn Taylor for establishing the task force and steering its work and for making great progress in the area of equality and law reform.

I also pay tribute to the former Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy McManus, who chaired the task force until her appointment to ministerial office. That represented a unique continuum because she moved from being chair of the task force to being Minister of State with responsibility for housing, which allowed her to bring forward the key proposals on accommodation. I had the privilege to bring the final proposals for legislation to Government.

I pay tribute also to former Senator Mary Kelly who, following Deputy McManus' elevation, took up the reins and chaired the latter stages of the task force's work with great effect.

The task force report maps out a blueprint for action in a range of areas. It spells out requirements in respect of accommodation, the specific issue addressed in the legislation before the House, in stark terms. Table D2 — Estimate of Accommodation Units required 1995 to 2000 — shows that 3,100 units of accommodation will be needed by the turn of the millennium. The figures provided show that, in 1995, 1,125 households were living on the roadside, 325 were living on temporary sites and, under the heading "General increase", 650 were either housed or living on permanent sites. The table also includes information pertaining to transient groups and indicates that a total of 3,100 families required accommodation in 1995. One of the problems the Government will face is the provision of such accommodation.

Governments have always held the view that resources would be made available where councils were willing to provide for the needs of travellers. However, the task force report indicates that extensive resources will be required to provide the units of accommodation to which I referred. For example, paragraph 2.2.4 states that the estimated cost of meeting the accommodation needs of the travelling community up to the year 2000 is £218 million in 1994 prices. Taking inflation into account that figure has probably risen to £250 million, which is a sizeable sum. Table D6 of the report provides a breakdown of the individual components of the £218 million.

If we are serious about implementing the provisions of the Bill and addressing the comprehensive accommodation needs of travellers between now and the year 2000 in a realistic way, expenditure of the order recommended by the task force must be provided. I am seeking an assurance from the Minister of State that this money will be provided and that we are not engaged in an academic exercise of merely highlighting the framework of need, stating how we intend to deal with it and hoping that resources will be provided in the timeframe outlined. Having served as Minister for the Environment, I realise that that scale of funding represents a considerable investment and I am aware that other pressures and demands will be placed on the Minister of State. However, I hope the publication and probable enactment of the Bill represents a clear and firm signal of the will of the Government — echoed by the will of the Dáil — that this expenditure should be made available. I remind Members that, at the outset of this process, I introduced a substantial increase in the capital provision for traveller accommodation from an outturn of £6.5 million in 1996 to £11 million in the original Estimate for 1997.

The details of the strategy include a number of key proposals such as the establishment of a traveller accommodation unit within the Department of the Environment and Local Government to oversee the strategic plan and national policy, the establishment of a traveller accommodation consultative group, which is vital to ensure that all partners in this endeavour can feel they are part of the process, and a range of legislative changes outlined by the Minister of State, the most important of which is the Bill before the House.

As the Minister of State indicated, despite the focus of recent times and the expenditure of a considerable sum of money, the number of travellers on the roadside has not been significantly reduced in the past five years. It was estimated five years ago that 1,180 families were living on the roadside. At the end of last year, despite the provision of accommodation for 849 traveller families in the past five years, 1,127 were estimated to be living on the roadside. Why is that? If that volume of accommodation is being provided, why is the net figure of travellers living on the roadside not being reduced? One of the reasons for this is the increase in the number of British based Irish travellers returning home. We must take account of that in framing plans to meet future needs.

A key element of the strategy is the requirement for local authorities to consult travellers in the preparation and adoption of the five year programmes to meet not only the existing need but also the projected need of their functional areas. Other speakers referred to the uneven performance of local authorities to date, a matter upon which we must reflect. The issue of meeting traveller accommodation needs cannot be left to those who are willing to grasp the nettle in their functional areas. Other local authorities are prepared to let them do this while taking no such initiative themselves. If we are to provide for the accommodation needs of travellers to a standard that is acceptable in modern Ireland, it is clear that local authorities must act in concert.

One of the great problems in the past was that those who considered it right to provide for traveller families resident in their areas believed they were merely attracting additional families because adjoining local authorities were taking no such action, which compounded the difficulties involved. There seemed to be a penalty on those who acted responsibly. There must be a clear national programme run by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. We know from our respective roles as legislators and as local authority members that, if we want to find one, there is always a good reason not to propose a halting site, a transient site or proper housing. Some local authorities have debated this issue for years while others which want to take an initiative feel undermined by that reluctance and attitude.

The Department of the Environment and Local Government will have the legal framework to ensure a comprehensive plan is established. There must be no laggards in that regard and it will be up to the Minister to ensure it is put in place.

With regard to the local consultative committees to be established under the Bill, it is important that tradition is respected. We all know there are areas where traveller families will not live for cultural reasons, which must be respected. Similarly, there are traditional areas where they have stopped for generations. This must also be respected. There must be a clear input of local knowledge and local traveller culture and the inclusion of this local consultative process is a critical element of the Bill.

We are concerned with the vindication of citizenship. There will be no citizenship for those not entitled to the rights every other citizen enjoys. That includes not only proper accommodation but also the right to expect the same health status as the average citizen, the same educational opportunities and access to places of entertainment and socialisation. These do not exist now. It is a crucial issue for us to resolve in the latter part of this millennium.

It must be a job for the centre and for the Minister ultimately to ensure the sum of all the individual plans meets the total need. It would be a ludicrous farce if they did not. Every local authority must play its part in taking its full obligations on board. If there are gaps it is for the Minister to intervene. He will have the power under this provision to tell local authorities, county councils and urban authorities they are not meeting the perceived need in their functional areas and they must do better.

Issues were brought to my attention from the raft of submissions which we all received, especially from travellers and traveller representative groups. I welcome the process of submission by interested parties to legislation. Like every Member of the House I read them with care and interest. Legislation should progress with inputs from all affected parties. I wish to bring a few of the concerns expressed to me to the attention of the Minister before dealing with them in greater detail on Committee Stage.

The issue of travellers as a distinct ethnic group with their own culture is very important. Many submissions wanted that properly recognised in the Bill by having the word "traveller" designated with a capital letter. The report of the task force on the travelling community has an interesting chapter devoted to the unique culture and language of the travelling community in Ireland. It deals with the existence of the language, even among Irish-American travellers who emigrated to America more than a century ago. They have more in common with travellers here than with the Irish-American community in the main. On page 76 of the report the task force recommends: "That the distinct culture and identify of the Traveller community be recognised and taken into account." I ask the Minister to implement this recommendation by replacing "traveller" with "Traveller" in the Bill and to determine that there is a unique culture that must be respected and reflected in legislation.

I listened to the comments of Deputy Currie, whose views I respect. He touched on a very difficult issue for us. When we deal with cultural diversity does that mean we need to accept norms of behaviour that would not be acceptable in a different culture, such as our own? That is very hard to address when dealing, for example, with the treatment of children and women. While I have no great experience of especially bad treatment of women and children by travellers, there are exceptions. For example, the notion of travellers putting children on the side of the road to beg is worrying and difficult for us all. It should not be accepted as a cultural issue. The rights of children transcend those kinds of issues. They have a right to be protected.

Equally, the health status of travellers, touched on by Deputy Currie, is profoundly worrying. As Minister for Health in 1994 I published the national health strategy, Shaping a Healthier Future. All our analyses on the health profiles of the population as a whole showed travellers to have the worst health status by a huge margin. That is reflected in the task force report on the travelling community. In section E, page 135, paragraph 2.3, it outlines vital statistics of travelling people. In 1987 the general fertility rate for travellers was 164.2 per thousand compared with 70.1 per thousand for the settled community. The infant mortality rate for travellers in 1987 was 18.1 per 1,000 live births compared to the national figure of 7.4. This is more than twice the infant mortality rate of the norm and is closer to a third world than a developed world rate. The report found that male travellers have over twice the risk of dying in a given year than settled males, a profoundly disturbing statistic, whereas traveller women have a threefold greater risk of dying than the average woman in Ireland in any given year. Finally, travellers are only now reaching the life expectancy that settled Irish people achieved in the 1940s. These are horrendous facts which we as a society have a responsibility to address. A critical component in addressing and resolving health difficulties is proper accommodation and sanitation. That is what this Bill is primarily about.

The travelling community is anxious to seek clarity in the content of the accommodation programme which should specify the implementation arrangements proposed by local authorities. The programme should be an itemised, detailed one which would set out the number of specific sites for long — term living, transient travellers and group housing schemes. It should also state what assistance will be made available to facilitate those buying houses for home ownership and the quantity of standard local authority houses that will be provided for travellers. Those matters should be spelt out in detail in the individual reports rather than there being a general aspiration to provide for X number of travellers in a global sense.

There is also a need to strengthen the role of the national consultative committee to include the right to advise the Minister to use his powers under section 18(2) which requires a local authority to amend or replace an inadequate or unsuitable accommodation programme. It is important that the national consultative committee should have real clout to advise the Minister that where there is an acute problem he should take action under section 18(2) to advise and instruct a local authority to replace an inadequate programme with a proper one.

The traveller movement has requested that the balance of membership of the local consultative committees should be changed to ensure that travellers or traveller representatives make up one third rather than one quarter of the members. That is a reasonable request and I will table an amendment to that effect on Committee Stage. I invite the Minister to reflect on that.

Concern was also expressed at the length of time some travellers have been on sites with socalled limited facilities. Some such temporary and, by definition, inadequate facilities have accommodated travellers for up to 18 years. We should deal specifically with that matter in this legislation to ensure it will not be an ongoing issue. The traveller movement reasonably believes there should be a statutory limit on the number of families to be accommodated on each site that has limited facilities. I will table an amendment on Committee Stage to deal with those two issues.

Under section 28 the definition of sites with limited facilities is extraordinarily basic. Sites with limited facilities means just that. The definition states that sites with limited facilities means sites which, having regard to the temporary nature of such sites or the short duration of periods of use — which can be up to 18 years — have sufficient water, facilities for solid and liquid waste disposal and hard surface parking for caravans. They are hardly an extensive range of facilities that any one of us or our families would like to endure for very long. Perhaps the Minister would reconsider that definition because it is too limited and too basic.

All the submissions I received from the traveller movement expressed grave concern at the implications of section 31. I support that section because it is an important part of the Bill, but we need some explanation of it. I am happy to respond to the representations I received. That section could benefit travellers because it would ensure the easier establishment of halting sites when there is a clear provision to ensure that there would not be unauthorised encampment around or near them.

I strongly support the view of the Minister of State that he would like the voluntary housing sector to have a greater role in the provision of accommodation for travellers. The voluntary sector is extremely important and it probably could play an even greater role than the local authorities because it could do things they cannot do in this regard. I encourage the Minister to develop that good idea.

The proper management of sites is critical. In recent times we have had experience of estate management and we brought about some improvements, particularly in estate management in the voluntary housing sector. A scheme was introduced to provide financial assistance for the management of halting sites, but it is a very small step and we have a long way to go. Well managed halting sites will sell themselves. This is an issue on which the Minister must be very proactive in addressing. I underscore that as a critical component of this Bill.

We will have an opportunity to go through the Bill line by line in the select committee. I welcome this extremely important legislation and I hope that the necessary resources will be put in place to ensure it will comprehensively address in the next few years an issue that has been a social disgrace for generations.

I wish to share my time with Deputy O'Flynn.

I welcome the Bill. Having been a member of a local authority for 18 years, I am delighted that at long last there are firm proposals on traveller accommodation. I pay tribute to all involved, particularly the former Minister, Mervyn Taylor, the former Minister of State, Deputy McManus during her period as chairperson of the task force and the Ministers of State, Deputies Molloy and Dan Wallace. Many local authorities took an interest in the issue of traveller accommodation but, unfortunately, others did not. Having read the proposals in the Bill, the Minister's solid commitment under section 14, which deals with county and city managers having the authority to adopt an accommodation plan within a specific time, is very evident. I sincerely welcome that commitment in the Bill to address this issue because for many years local authorities have put the matter aside.

The instrument in the Bill dealing with the difficulty of providing accommodation for the travelling community will ensure that problem will be resolved. Unfortunately, travellers have been discriminated against over the years, usually because of the misdeeds of quite a few individuals. Those who were lucky enough to get permanent accommodation and some formal education were able to settle alongside their settled neighbours, but the sad reality is that 1,200 families still live along the roadside. Unlike the position some years ago, many traveller families have a desire to seek some sort of permanent accommodation, be it on a halting site, a permanent house or some other form of housing. I received a letter this morning from a traveller in my constituency who is 80 years of age. She points out that she made five or six attempts in the past 30 years to find accommodation. This underlines the difficulty with regard to the accommodation of the travelling community. The difficulties of the lady in this case will be resolved over the next few weeks with a housing scheme in my constituency. There are many traveller families who desire permanent accommodation but in many local authorities, this solution did not find favour most of the time with the elected public representatives.

I welcome the task force's recommendation for legislation to put housing for travellers on a firm footing. The Bill will allow housing authorities to tackle the problem in a planned and comprehensive way. The approval of local authorities has varied over the years and that is why there are 1,200 families living on the roadside. Some local authorities have shown great interest but others have not. My local authority, Laois County Council, has been active on this issue. I pay tribute to Ms Fionnuala Daly who recognised the need to resolve this issue and the county council is working to resolve it.

The Bill brings into line those local authorities which have fallen short of playing a full part in resolving the national scandal of roadside encampments often without basic sanitation facilities. The problem will be tackled successfully because every local authority will have to address the same issues in the same timeframe. A five year plan will be set out and if progress is not made it will be possible to take action to ensure the deadlines are met.

I welcome the arrangement whereby county and city managers will be able to adopt the housing programme. While it was suggested that such an arrangement would be undemocratic, the history of the traveller issue shows the need for firm action. I support the firm action provided for in the Bill. In the past I have criticised arrangements that give county managers authoritarian powers. However, in this case I welcome it. In the past local authorities have often failed to address the housing needs within their areas and this has led to frustration for the travelling and the settled communities.

I welcome the provisions which require local authorities, in consultation with traveller groups, to prepare and adopt by a specified date a five year programme to meet existing and, more importantly, the projected accommodation needs of travellers. It is important that we cater for the projected needs. I also welcome the requirement for a periodic statutory assessment of housing and halting sites to be carried out.

I commend the Minister for including the transient halting sites option to facilitate the nomadic lifestyle of travellers. This matter has often caused difficulties for local authorities because they developed their housing stock but did not cater for the needs of transient travellers. The new requirements will also serve to assess the need to accommodate the future growth in traveller families in respect of a period to be defined.

It is important for us to reassure the settled community and to include representatives of the settled community in the working groups. While the Bill recognises the need to consult at all times with all interests concerned with traveller accommodation, it is important that we amend the legislation to include specifically consultation with the settled community.

I welcome the provision in section 8 that prior notice of the preparation of an accommodation plan must be given. This measure will help the public to realise that it is part of the process. Another important element is that the housing authority must put the draft programme on public display. In the past residents of housing estates felt they had been short-changed, so to speak, because such programmes were not made available to them. The ending of the exemption of halting sites from the normal planning process under Local Government regulations is also welcome.

It is important for the settled community that the measures will be based on partnership between the local authorities, travellers and, I hope, residents' associations. If we provide housing, halting sites, group housing and transient halting sites in every local authority area over the next five years there will be no excuse for illegal encampments. Unauthorised encampments cannot be tolerated, particularly when they exist close to existing traveller accommodation. I do not agree with the one mile radius provided for in the Bill because it will extend the problem to the outskirts of towns. It will prove problematic and I ask the Minister to review it. If we seek to provide accommodation with the full support of the settled community we must assure it that we are taking its fears into account. No unauthorised encampments should be allowed within five miles of an authorised site.

Where a local authority fulfils its obligations with regard to traveller accommodation and the families in the estate ignore the accommodation provided the Bill should provide for a sanction. For example, if a family has been offered housing or halting site accommodation but persists in living on the roadside, there must be provision for action by the local authority. The Bill proposes new powers to deal with illegal parking, particularly adjacent to sites and group housing. This is a welcome development because it is one of the settled community's greatest fears.

However, the Bill does not address the difficult issue of the large number of travelling traders who have the resources to look after themselves. We must distinguish the needs of travelling traders from those of other traveller families. Travelling traders generally travel in large groups and often leave large amounts of refuse and great ill feeling in their wake. They cause great distress among local people as members of local authorities will confirm. We should address this matter in the Bill with effective sanctions, such as the seizure of vehicles. This may sound draconian but we must establish our commitment to genuine traveller families and separate them in the public mind from the travelling traders.

The new provisions will deal with the illegal parking of caravans but the method used must be immediate and effective. There have been problems in the past with having to go to court and the process taking two or three months while ill feeling festers. The public and the travellers on sites want immediate action, that is, within 24 to 48 hours. The sanctions must be seen to be effective. Fines are not effective but the confiscation of vehicles would be.

The extension of the provisions of the Housing Act, 1997, with regard to the control of anti-social behaviour on halting sites provided by local authorities or voluntary groups with the assistance of local authorities is very welcome. However, the sanctions involved should be effective and other local authorities should not be obliged to accommodate excluded families. Provision must be made to deal with those who, having been evicted from one area, move to another area. The Bill will enable local traveller accommodation committees to advise on the management of halting sites. It should make specific mention of the responsibility of travellers in the upkeep and maintenance of houses.

I welcome the Bill. The statistics related to travellers speak volumes and underline my support for traveller accommodation. Those statistics indicate that 2 per cent of travellers live to the age of 65; the traveller infant mortality rate is three times the national average and the traveller stillbirth rate is twice the national average. Those are the main reasons I support this legislation. I always believed travellers were entitled to the same as myself or anybody else under the Constitution.

I acknowledge Deputy Currie's point that traveller children should not be looked upon differently from those of the settled community. In the current economic climate we should be prepared to look after those unable to look after themselves. While there has been tremendous criticism over the years from the settled community, it must recognise our job as legislators and public representatives to cater for the needs of genuine people, an example of whom I referred to earlier, waiting 30 years for housing accommodation. In this family, the husband lives on the side of the road and has a walking aid having suffered a stroke. The time has come for us to establish our credentials and fully support the Bill.

I need much more than seven minutes and I hope you will give me latitude, Acting Chairman.

Acting Chairman

The time slot allows for a maximum of 20 minutes.

The programme for Government embodied a commitment to give travellers a new deal, which is in line with the national strategy for traveller accommodation. The thinking behind the Bill was inspired by the harsh living conditions of most travellers, the growth of unofficial roadside encampments and the lack of implementation of a traveller programme by some local authorities. The Minister placed a strong emphasis on consultation with travellers throughout the Bill and I agree fully as it is the key to its successful implementation. There must be total openness and the consultation must involve full participation by all interested parties.

Local authorities will be asked to appoint a consultative committee consisting of members and officials of the appointing authority and, indeed, representatives of the travellers and traveller bodies. There was no mention of local community representation and this is a serious omission which has been referred to already. It is imperative that representatives of local communities should be on such bodies. I wish this to be included in the Bill. It is vital that local residents have a voice, particularly those in the vicinity of existing and proposed traveller housing accommodation or halting sites. Local goodwill and understanding cannot be generated in a vacuum and locals must have a voice. It would be convenient to say council members of the appointing authority are their spokespersons. I mean no disrespect, but I disagree. There must be a presence for those who live near official halting sites.

It would be better to have community views solicited and aired prior to decisions being made. Suggestions and reservations could be expressed at a stage where discussion could lead to agreed solutions. Agreements reached without the involvement and support of all parties, including local authorities, could prove to be totally meaningless and ineffective. Anyone who has travelled around the country has seen the many caravans and tents pitched on roadside sites by travellers and the deplorable conditions in which some live. The very existence of those sites poses serious social and health problems and this matter must be addressed.

On the other hand we have seen an obvious display of wealth and property by certain travellers and traders. This contrast poses serious credibility problems among many of the settled community, especially those who have been in urgent need of housing for many years. They also feel they are short-changed by the system and it is obvious to all involved in local bodies that the solution to the problem will not be easy. There can only be one solution when the issue is addressed openly and honestly.

We have seen the universal opposition to the housing of travellers by local residents in the areas where they are to be settled. There is ill-feeling between settled communities and travellers. Much of this attitude can be put down to traditional ingrained beliefs on both sides which have been held sacred through many generations. Many settled people see the settling of travellers near them as detrimental to themselves, their families and property values. Many travellers feel they should be housed in adequate accommodation and they are correct. Unfortunately, some also have the view that they do not share the respect, the values or standards of their settled neighbours and that is not on.

All local authorities must accept there is an onus on them to accommodate travelling families. Unfortunately, some proceed with the implementation of their responsibilities in a hamfisted manner and this effectively raises the heckles of traveller and settled communities. Unless honest, open and participative involvement of all bodies is effected under the Bill, it will not work. It would be easy for all of us to say we support the Bill and not express reservations for fear of offence to some. We would not do a service to those who will benefit from the Bill if we did not identify and eliminate pitfalls. We must face our responsibilities. We cannot succeed if we view the major task ahead through rose coloured spectacles. When areas are short-listed for development for traveller accommodation, the intentions of the local authorities should be made clear from the start. This will effectively negate the common belief that all such plans are agreed and arrived at in a manner which will keep the general public in the dark.

I have been on a travellers sub-committee for the past seven years. I wish to refer to the record of Cork Corporation in terms of the housing of travellers, which is excellent and commendable. A total of 120 families have been housed in the past five years. There is a travellers sub-committee of the housing committee of which the Minister of State, Deputy Wallace, was a member in 1991 and prior to that. There are representatives from the traveller and settled communities on the committee. It has worked well and there has been good consultation. There are four halting sites in Cork, three on the north side of the city in my constituency and one in Deputy Clune's constituency in Mahon. We are currently in consultation with travellers — I visited the Spring Lane halting site last week — to draw up new plans for an improved halting site based on designs sent to us by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Halting sites need to be improved and be taken out of the black holes of Calcutta where they have been for so long, in far away areas where members of the settled community would not have to pass them. Accommodation should be brought up the standards expected in the year 2000.

If the Deputy needs a few more minutes, I am agreeable.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank the Deputy. Travellers must realise their aspirations will only succeed if they are willing accept the responsibilities imposed on them when the Bill becomes law. They must also recognise others have rights and are equally entitled to protection under the law. Settled communities are entitled to enjoy the benefits of laws enacted to protect them and to guarantee them the right to live in peace in their homes. Both groups must have honest and open discussion with each other. Each must learn to understand the other's viewpoint and I foresee a totally negative reaction from the communities which will be their new neighbours in settled accommodation if they and the travellers do not make an effort to establish positive relations.

We must address reality if this Bill is to succeed in its aims. Both communities have a perception of their rights and must establish an agreed mechanism which will enable them to express their ideas and perceptions. They must bear in mind the fact that every right conferred on them by the State carries the corresponding responsibility. I thank the Minister for his obvious determination to ensure the Bill succeeds in its aims. He has put much time and effort into its presentation. Section 31 states "the local authority may serve" and I hope the Minister tables an amendment which states that the local authority "shall" serve. I cannot see the section which relates to enforcement working unless that is the case.

I welcome the publication of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill. Since last September I have frequently asked on the Order of Business for its publication and I am disappointed that, even though much of the preparatory work was done by the previous Government, it has taken so long for it to be brought before the Oireachtas. I join the tributes to the former Minister, Mr. Mervyn Taylor, for establishing the task force, to my colleague, Deputy McManus, who initially chaired the task force and did much of the preparatory work for the legislation, and to the former Senator, Ms Mary Kelly, who subsequently chaired the task force. It has been accepted by all sides that its report represents a blueprint, not only for the provision of accommodation for travellers, but for dealing with their many interrelated needs in health, education, promotion of their culture and the provision of income and accommodation.

This issue should not be so difficult. The Minister said that housing or halting site accommodation has not been provided for about 1,000 traveller families who are living on the side of the road. In a country which prides itself on being an economic success and one of the most prosperous nations in the world, it is not acceptable that some of our citizens continue to live in shanty villages and encampments, and this is a mark of our failure as a society to provide decent accommodation for them. I hope and expect that this Bill will provide the framework for the provision of adequate traveller accommodation.

Before discussing the detail of the Bill I will comment on the plight of travellers. The task force report has provided a blueprint for the improvement of conditions of living for travellers, and for their rights. I hope all Government Departments and agencies and those to whom the report's recommendations are addressed will implement them without delay.

One must question the way travellers are normally considered, not only by those who are prejudiced against them but also by many of their supporters. Why, when speaking of travellers' rights, do we speak only in general or generic terms? Why do we talk of them as if they were a homogenous tribe, rather than as individual citizens with rights? It is interesting that the task force report, the consultative committee and the Minister, in supplying figures today, refer only to the number of traveller families or households — I have seen no information as to how many travellers we are talking about. Why can we not speak of travellers as men, women and children, the same way we speak about every other subset in our society?

I make this point because, if we continue to count travellers not as individuals but as families or households, to refer to them solely in terms of being a disadvantaged minority or an ethnic group — and I understand the reason many supporters of the travelling community use that description — we disguise their individual rights and needs. It is time we began to think of the needs of travellers in all areas, including accommodation, in terms of individual needs. The use of generic descriptions of travellers, and the generalisation of their condition and circumstances, invites the type of prejudice we do not want to see. If those who support travellers and advocate their rights do not ascribe to them their rightful, individual identities, is it any wonder those who are prejudiced against them will ascribe to all travellers the misdeeds of the few? The use of generic terms to describe travellers makes integration difficult — Deputy Currie made a number of interesting comments on that point. It also undermines the self-respect, dignity and sense of individual responsibility which each person should have. It ultimately encourages a culture of dependence.

Deputy Hayes spoke of the relationship which existed at another time between the traveller and settled communities. When such a relationship did exist it had a strong economic dimension — for example, the skills and crafts pursued by travellers and the trade in horses were part of the interface between individual travellers and members of the settled community, when ours was a more rural society. It is time we approached the question of travellers not with the patronage and pity which have so often characterised the discussion, but with the encouragement of the sense of pride which travellers have and should have.

The use of generic terms also disguises the individual differences between travellers, which also exist in all sections of society. It sometimes absolves the sense of individual responsibility. We must think in terms of the individual and individual rights, and if we do we will arrive much more quickly to the conclusion that people have certain rights which transcend their cultural background or identity. No child should have to exist in a caravan or tent parked in a dyke on the side of the road, and any child who has to live in such conditions is inevitably exposed to ill-health and early mortality, as mentioned and statistically shown in the various reports before us. No woman should be expected to rear and provide for her children, and do all the normal household tasks such as providing clothing and preparing meals, often on her own, in the isolated, inadequate and unsanitary conditions in which travellers exist. I do not wish to be seen as generalising in making the following point because I am speaking about individual cases — no father should drink his dole money and expect his wife and family to beg for the basic necessities of life. In discussing the condition of travellers, we must assert individual rights and responsibilities, just as we do for all other sectors of our society.

The difficulty we must face up to collectively is the failure of society to provide accommodation for travellers. In addressing the question of accommodation, we must first acknowledge that three quarters of travellers are already settled in local authority housing. There are 1,817 families in standard housing, 324 in group housing, 102 in private housing, 17 are housed by the voluntary sector and 1,134 are housed on halting sites. This Bill is addressed at the quarter of the travelling community who are not provided with accommodation.

Our failure to provide accommodation for travellers is highlighted in the most recent report of the consultative committee. It is appalling that while about 1,000 traveller families have not been provided with accommodation, only 63 halting site bays were completed in 1997 and only 32 were under construction at the end of 1997. Of the 41 local authorities which have responsibility for this area, only four were in the process of constructing permanent halting sites at the end of 1997. That is an appalling indictment of the performance of local authorities in the provision of accommodation for travellers.

The Bill requires local authorities to draw up a five year plan, which I welcome. I also welcome the public consultation process provided for. However, I strongly recommend that the public consultation process should be a proactive one, with communities invited to identify possible sites in their areas where travellers might be accommodated. In that context, section 31 will be of considerable assistance in explaining to local communities that the provision of a halting site or group housing scheme will not result in subsequent unauthorised encampments.

I am concerned about the provision that in cases where the local authority fails to adopt a plan the county manager will have the final say. I understand this applies only to circumstances where the authority fails to adopt any plan. However, there should be an appeals mechanism against the decision of the county manager in the interests of fairness and workability.

I assume the reason for giving the final decision to the county manager is to ensure that a plan will ultimately be adopted and that the local authority will provide accommodation for travellers. However, I fear this provision will lead to local authorities ending up in the courts facing judicial reviews. Deputy Hayes already spoke about the appalling waste of public money in pursuing these issues through the courts. I remind the House that it is not only travellers who have taken court cases — many well heeled settled communities have also taken cases to court. If this provision remains without an appeals mechanism it will ultimately lead back to the courts and the Bill's objective, which is to provide traveller accommodation in a more urgent manner, may be slowed down.

Will the Minister clarify that section 31 also refers to the provision of group housing? It is remarkable that group housing has not been given a higher profile in the Bill. It should have been.

I am also concerned about the absence of provisions for the implementation of the plan. The Bill provides for the adoption of the plan but it is less than clear on what will happen if the plan is not implemented. The plan must ultimately be implemented because the county manager has the final say in that. However, what will happen if a local authority adopts a five year plan but does not implement it?

I agree with Deputy Howlin's comments on the composition of the consultative committee. There is a need for consultation at a much lower level than is provided for. It is fine to have consultative committees where representatives of the travelling community and the settled community, local authorities, State agencies and Departments meet and discuss these matters. However, there is also a need for dialogue where the sites and group housing schemes are to be located. Some provision should be made for that in the arrangements which are made when sites or group housing are allocated. The provision of sites and group housing carries a corresponding responsibility in regard to maintenance and good management. There must be dialogue at a much more local level in that regard.

On the management of sites and group housing schemes after they are established, some local authorities have been less than adequate in this regard. The legislation should provide a mechanism whereby the Minister can give directions to local authorities on the management of estates, group housing schemes and sites.

There is a need to professionalise the service in the management of sites and group housing schemes at local authority level. Deputy Moloney referred to an official in his local authority who had an interest in this area and who advanced the programme. That is replicated in a number of local authorities, where a particularly committed official will advance the programme. However, the problem is that very often individuals with such an interest or skill are moved because of promotional opportunities, transfers or reorganisation. An administrative officer dealing with the programme today can be moved to the planning department or the finance department next week.

In the provision of housing generally, there is a need to develop a core of experienced professional staff within the local authority service who will remain with the housing programme, as is the case in the planning area where there are professional planning officers. Some of those professional housing officers could specialise in the area of traveller accommodation. This would provide the necessary continuity, which we are not getting from some local authorities in the management of group housing schemes and halting sites.

I congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Molloy, on bringing forward this important legislation and keeping faith with the Government programme in regard to services and facilities for members of the travelling community. I also thank my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dan Wallace, for the interest he has shown in this issue, not just arising out of this legislation but in recent years. I have worked with him on a number of occasions on issues concerning the rights and entitlements of the travelling community. This legislation, if properly implemented within the timescale set out in certain sections of the Bill, will make a major contribution to the well-being of the travelling community, enabling them to access other services to which they currently find it difficult to obtain access. Before proceeding, I would like to share my time with Deputy Tony Killeen.

I listened to the debate in this House and I have read accounts of the debate in the other House, so I will not go into detail on the accommodation requirements other than to say that we will require about 3,100 units over the next couple of years if we are to meet the needs of the travelling community. This legislation, if implemented, will result in considerable progress in providing the type of accommodation that is urgently required by the travelling community.

I have received representations from a number of organisations, including the National Traveller Women's Forum and Dublin Accommodation Coalition with Travellers, which is an umbrella organisation for a number of traveller support groups and other interested organisations. Those representatives and others have in the main welcomed this Bill. Although they have suggested some changes, they see this legislation as having the potential to make a significant contribution to the issue of accommodation.

The successful implementation of this legislation will very much depend on different organisations and individuals giving it a fair chance. Among those groups are the local authorities. The management, elected members and officials of local authorities have to realise that on this occasion the objective laid down, to provide accommodation over the next four or five years, will have to be met. I would like to see that happen sooner, but there will have to be an understanding that there can be no further slippage in the provision of accommodation for travellers. There have been many reports in the past, and annual statistics on accommodation requirements, all telling a sorry tale concerning the provision of accommodation for travellers. On this occasion we have to remember, once and for all, that if we fail to implement the tenets of this legislation relative to accommodation, society will have failed disgracefully to live up to its responsibility to a significant minority in the community to provide them with basic facilities to which they are entitled. Travellers themselves agree that unless decent accommodation is provided, they cannot access the other services of the State. These include, most importantly, education. It is very difficult for traveller children to go to pre-schools, primary schools or second level schools if they do not start from a base of decent accommodation. They feel they stand out when they go to school because they do not come from a background where they have access to the basic facilities associated with accommodation. It is very difficult to provide health care for travellers, particularly when they are moved, sometimes by force, from one area to another and often intimidated into moving from the areas in which they live. This is unfortunate and arises because the State has failed to meet the accommodation needs of the travelling community. Bearing in mind that only about 3,000 units are required to meet current and future needs, it is not a particularly large objective. For that reason this legislation may make a significant difference.

This legislation will have to receive the wholehearted support of local authorities and local elected representatives. I want to introduce a note of caution here. The local elections loom next June. I sincerely hope the issue of the provision of traveller accommodation and the drawing up of the plans will not be politicised by those who seek to use the provision of accommodation for travellers to further their own ends. I am concerned that might happen as we had examples of it in the past. Deputies have already referred to the role of the courts relative to certain sites. I sincerely hope, given the consultation process that permeates this legislation, that there will be no further delays or difficulties in providing accommodation.

Many people's attitude to traveller accommodation has been influenced to some extent by what they see as poorly or inadequately managed existing sites. There is a case to answer in that regard. For too long sites with basic facilities have been provided, but the management and maintenance of the sites by the local authorities have left much to be desired, certainly in the case of older sites. That has coloured people's opinion of the development of halting sites in their own areas. It is clear to anyone with an interest in accommodation for travellers that, where the local authority discharges its full responsibilities for managing and maintaining sites, there has been no problem with those sites. If basic services were withdrawn from householders — I refer particularly to refuse collection and the provision of sewerage and water facilities — we would find ourselves in a difficult situation. We have had examples where refuse was uncollected because of industrial disputes and much of that refuse ended up where it should not be, and that was because householders did not have the service to which they felt entitled. No one condones their actions. I am simply drawing a parallel with the management and maintenance of accommodation for travellers. For too long basic services and facilities have not been provided. I hope that day is over. I am very encouraged by a number of sites I have seen in the greater Dublin area and around the country where services are provided on a regular basis. Such halting sites are a credit to travellers and local authorities. I hope that in the management of all halting sites and other traveller accommodation the same facilities and resources will be made available. I hope that on this occasion the community will work with their local authorities, elected representatives and traveller support groups and organisations which now exist in almost every part of the country and are resourced by different Government Departments and agencies.

It should be understood that consultation does not mean that either side has a veto.

I regret that those who demand consultation and, in this case, an accommodation, have the view that the process of consultation means that a group can decide not to allow a site in a certain area. They believe consultation is all about saying "no", but I take a different view. There should be consultation both with the travellers and the settled communities, and that is provided for. Consultation should be about communities participating in the provision of accommodation for members of the travelling community and working with respective organisations in the area to ensure that accommodation is to the standard any individual or family would require.

I am concerned that the consultation process might be used to delay the provision of accommodation. There have been examples of that throughout the country where perfectly good sites were proposed but, because of intense local opposition, they did not proceed. Yet if one returned two or three years later to sites which did proceed, despite local opposition, one would find that there were not any problems because the sites were properly maintained by the local authorities. In such cases, all the concerns of local people were properly met.

This is important legislation. As someone with an interest in the rights of travellers, as do most people in this House, I want to ensure that accommodation is provided speedily through local authorities. Because the provision of accommodation and other services for travellers is backed up by legislation, and all the other issues contained therein, we can look back four or five years from now and say we have met our responsibilities. That is the aim of this legislation and I wish it well.

Fáiltím roimh an Bille go ginearálta ach táim buartha faoin ualach a chuireann sé ar chomhairlí chontae agus baile. Creidim nach bhfuil sé ar a gcumas deileáil leis go héifeachtach.

Labhair mé ar an ábhar seo i ndíospóireacht anseo breis agus bliain ó shin agus léirigh mé ag an am sin na fadhbanna a bhain, dar liom, leis na moltaí a fuair an Rialtas i mí Iúil 1995. Ghlac an Rialtas deireannach leis an Stráitéis Náisiúnta um Cóiríocht don Lucht Siúil agus tá an Bille seo bunaithe ar sin. Rinne an Tasc Forsa obair thábhachtach ach ní raibh grúpa dá gcuid sásta leis an chuntas agus d'fhoilsigh siad moltaí dá gcuid féin. Bhí na moltaí sin bunaithe ar an taithí a bhí acu ar fhadhbanna ina dtaobh féin den tír.

The history of the provision of traveller accommodation is fraught with difficulties and, at first glance, appears to be an issue that is impossible to address. The Minister of State indicated that more than 1,000 families were in need of housing at the end of 1996 and that figure had increased by almost 100 over the following year to 15 months.

The task force report, an excellent document as a result of a great deal of work, illustrated the enormous problems faced by traveller families. It painted a truly horrific picture of the health of traveller women and their children as against the health of women and children in the settled community, and outlined other health and education matters affecting travellers. This Bill is an attempt to address those problems but if we underestimate the difficulties that might be encountered it will not deal with them effectively.

There is a view that local representatives have not been positive towards developments to house and accommodate travellers. In my experience that has not been the case. The vast majority of local authority members have been well disposed to dealing with the problems but they frequently had experiences which taught them to be careful when grappling with this issue. On occasions when they stuck out their necks in support of a solution, they were criticised when it subsequently failed.

I welcome the provision for consultation with travellers, the general public and local authorities. It is important that consultation be in the form of genuine dialogue which brings forward speedy recommendations rather than a delaying tactic, as the Minister of State outlined.

It is essential that the five year accommodation plan takes account of the views and needs of travellers, but I am concerned that local authorities will not have the capacity to implement the plans when they are prepared. Unless this issue is dealt with by a national agency, we will continue to spend a great deal of money while being unable to effectively address this problem. I am not saying the local authorities should not have a role in the implementation of the plan but they must have the back-up of a national agency, not just a consultative committee.

The history of the provision by local authorities of group housing and permanent and transient halting sites is generally poor. Where sites and group housing have been provided, the local authorities frequently have been unable to maintain them to an acceptable standard. However, the blame does not rest entirely with the local authorities. There have been occasions in my own county where local authority employees were prevented from doing work on halting sites and group housing schemes. That is not acceptable and we must face up to that problem. Every local authority faces the same difficulties and unless a national agency is involved at an administrative level in that part of the programme, we will continue to have failures.

Local authorities, including Clare County Council, Ennis County Council and others, frequently have been successful in providing local authority housing for travellers. There is a gradual move towards an acceptance of that policy. Problems that arose in local authority estates were dealt with over a period of time, sometimes successfully. Where the local authorities have consistently failed is in their dealings with permanent halting sites — there is not provision for transient ones in County Clare — and group housing. Enormous amounts of money have been expended on building and rebuilding sites and group housing schemes, but the failures have continued.

The number of families and individuals among the travelling community affected by this crisis is so large that we cannot afford to have another four or five year plan which fails to deliver. We must learn from the mistakes and the failures of the past. We must provide the level of back-up service for local authorities to allow them succeed. In one group housing scheme on the outskirts of Ennis town, in the Rosslevan area at Gaurus, the houses were rebuilt on three occasions. The local authority is currently in the process of employing a contractor to flatten the site — there is not much flattening to be done because the houses are in an advanced stage of dereliction — for rebuilding purposes. I find it impossible to believe that the local authority will be in a position to manage the new scheme of four houses which I understand it is intended to build in that location.

We frequently blame local communities for their opposition to travellers but the local authority in the area to which I refer has been more than accommodating, and that is frequently the case. We always assume that a community which is in the vicinity of a halting site or a group housing scheme will raise objections but that is not always the case. They are often prepared to live beside travellers provided a certain minimum standard is met. That has been the experience generally in County Clare. Despite what I said, I remain optimistic that the Bill provides a framework within which the problem may be addressed. I strongly urge that the role of the National Advisory Committee should be backed up by a permanent secretariat that will help local authorities to co-ordinate the service they provide and ensure it operates successfully.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Olivia Mitchell.

Carlow-Kilkenny): Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am delighted to speak on this Bill. Every local authority has a problem with travellers. I listened to Deputy Killeen speak about local authorities and the general public who wish to help travellers. In my local authority in Westport we proposed to set up a halting site on four occasions, but we were defeated on each occasion by the public. A lady, a relation of mine who spends much of her time in the church and will not allow anybody to speak against it — I admire her for that — was the first person out with a placard to protest against the halting site, despite the fact that it would have been a quarter of a mile away. People should not pretend this is not an emotive and serious issue.

There is a halting site in Castlebar which has worked very well, but the problem arises with the people outside the halting site, on the national primary road. I have no difficulty with housing travellers and erecting halting sites. I have been a member of a local authority since 1979 and my town has experienced many problems in this area. The local authority built council houses beside a private housing scheme and a travelling family was accommodated in the house nearest to the private houses. To be fair to that community, while it was not happy with the halting site, it was prepared to work with and assist the travellers in every way possible. The young couple in the house beside the halting site left the house because they could no longer live there. When they sought assistance from the local authority they were told to go to the Garda Síochána who in turn sent them back to the local authority. All the assistance of the State was available for the traveller family, and rightly so, but there was no assistance for the young couple who had to leave their house.

There are two types of travellers, those born and reared in local towns who are part of society and are known in the locality and travellers who lock up their houses for the summer and move in caravans to other areas. They move to Westport for Croagh Patrick weekend and take over Bertra beach. A court injunction is taken out on each occasion those travellers arrive and the taxpayer has to foot the bill. Those people are not the responsibility of the local authority. In some cases they have public housing, new vans, jeeps and caravans. They create great problems for the community and they give a bad name to genuine travellers who live in towns and who should be supported.

In my town there was a travelling family with 15 children. When the woman of the house died the whole community supported the family. For three days after the funeral, however, the Garda Síochána, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and members of the urban council, including myself and others, tried to stop the family from burning down the house, as is the tradition when a traveller dies. The neighbours were disturbed because they thought they would be burned out. The 15 children left the house, in spite of my pleas not to do so, and are now on the side of a national primary road. The family was settled in the community and the children were attending school and doing their best. Those people should be encouraged to put an end to such traditions. I do not know how we can provide in legislation for those circumstances or for the people who have to leave their houses because of travellers who live near them.

In many cases there is no problem with the travellers involved but rather with the relatives who visit them. Last Sunday night travellers moved into my town. There was uproar on the green at 3 o'clock in the morning and people in the housing estate could not get to sleep. It was difficult to get the Garda to deal with the problem and the local authority will do nothing about it. I listened to Deputy Gilmore and others speaking about local authorities, but they do not have the resources to deal with these problems. For the past ten years in local authorities there have been too many chiefs and not enough Indians. There are architects and engineers but not enough workers to carry out the work that needs to be done. There will be major difficulties with this Bill. Responsibility for travellers is being placed on local authorities, but they do not have the manpower or resources to deal with existing problems in housing estates.

We must look after travellers who are born and reared in our towns. I saw a proposal — I hope it is not in the Bill — that halting sites should be erected in every town for travellers who travel around the country, but I would not support such a proposal. No State could be expected to support such legislation. Every local authority has responsibility for travellers living in their areas and they should be supported. The problem is how to deal with travellers who move around during the summer months in caravans, creating tension among the settled community.

I am a member of an urban council and a county council and we do our part for travellers. We provide accommodation for them in housing estates because they have the same right to a council house as has anybody else. Every time a site is identified for a halting site, however, it is in a working class area. Halting sites are not situated in Dublin 4, Rossbeg or other wealthy areas, but this is a problem that must be dealt with by all sections of society. It is fine for do-gooders to say that the problem must be dealt with, but it is unacceptable to leave it to the working class people and those in housing estates. I made the point at a county council meeting that if halting sites are to be erected in Mayo they should be erected in middle and upper class areas as well as working class areas. Everybody must play their part in dealing with this serious problem.

In the past halting sites have always been situated in working class areas where people are unable to fight for themselves. People in authority are aware that if they target a site in a middle or upper class area, a court injunction will be taken out the following day because people living in those areas have the resources and ability to bring the case to court. That is unfair. That is why managers should not be given power in this regard. The local authority should make the decision. Most county councils are in touch with the people and most councillors want to resolve this problem.

Families who are housed do not generally cause problems. The difficulties arise when their relatives come to visit and cause rows during the night and so on. The families who are given council houses are usually from the area and will look after their housing. What does the Minister of State propose to do about young couples who seek assistance from the Garda or the local authority because of intimidation? I know two sets of young couples who had to leave their housing because of intimidation. I hope many of these problems will have been resolved when we discuss this matter again, but I doubt it.

I, too, welcome the Bill in so far as it is an honest attempt to tackle a persistent social problem which to date has proved resistant to resolution. In assessing the usefulness of the Bill, we must ask why this problem has been so resistant to resolution and why communities vigorously oppose the location of halting sites in their areas? Why are an otherwise generous, open and tolerant people, who bore penal taxes to redistribute even a limited national income to other disadvantaged groups, totally opposed to the location of halting sites in their areas? While Deputy Killeen stated there is not such opposition in County Clare, this is the reality in urban areas where populations are much denser and halting sites are inevitably in close proximity to residential areas. I suspect, however, this opposition exists throughout the country. If not, there would be no need for this Bill.

The purpose of the Bill is to take travellers out of their appalling conditions and place them in some type of reasonable accommodation. The conditions in which travellers live are an affront to all of us. How will this Bill deal with the problem? What provisions does it contain that will turn a climate of resonant opposition into one of acceptance and even support for the provision of accommodation for travellers? The Bill contains very little that will help. For a variety of reasons, it will fail to achieve what it sets out to do. I believe proposed halting sites will be subject to the same opposition and complaints from local communities as was the case in respect of all sites up to now.

Some aspects of the Bill are very welcome. It will make a positive contribution to a settlement policy. I am pleased it obliges all counties to be part of the solution rather than leaving it up to the same few willing counties that have tried to provide for travellers in the past. This is a national problem and can be tackled only on a national basis. The Bill also provides for an exclusion zone to protect against illegal halting in proximity to areas where there is an official halting site. This is a welcome provision because illegal parking has always been a major bone of contention in areas where there are sites and where sites are opposed. I have tabled some amendments regarding the extent of the exclusion zone because the word "radius" has been omitted from the Bill, even though it is included in the Explanatory Memorandum. While the inclusion of that word may not be crucial for areas outside Dublin, it is crucial for the Dublin area. I hope the Minister will accept this amendment.

The Bill also attempts to provide for public consultation on the adoption of the accommodation programme but, unfortunately, it goes on to make a mockery of that provision. For example, if the result of such consultation is public rejection of the programme and the elected members seek to reflect this in their decision making process, the Bill obliges the manager to override that decision and, effectively, proceed as if consultation had not taken place. I suspect many county managers do not want that power. If it is rammed ahead without democratic participation, it is doomed to failure. The Minister of State said that as each site progressed it would be subject to part 10 of the local government regulations in terms of public consultation. This is another con job on the public because when submissions are made it will be up to the manager to adjudicate on his proposal; it will not go back to the elected members. This effectively makes the public consultation a meaningless process.

One aspect of the traveller issue that incenses the public is the lack of a democratic decision making process. Before the last election commitments were made about bringing traveller halting sites into the planning process and making them subject to the same type of control as other projects. If the Government reneges on that commitment, it will pay the price and undermine progress on other aspects of the Bill.

The main reason I believe the Bill will fail to achieve its objective is that it makes the mistake we have always made when attempting to take travellers off the roadside. It is a one dimensional Bill and tends to deal only with accommodation needs. We know from past experience that public acceptance of an accommodation programme is linked to tackling all the other issues that surround the lives of travellers, such as their employment, health and education needs. Their accommodation needs cannot be progressed on their own. We should also address certain aspects of their culture which in many ways is anathema to a civilised society. I am talking about practices such as allowing children out on the streets to beg when they should be at school.

The Bill demands the impossible from local authorities. We cannot expect a housing authority to resolve complex and intractable social problems. This is a national and multi-dimensional problem. We have only one truly disadvantaged and marginalised group in society who, for the most part, live in conditions that do none of us any credit. This problem is not beyond our capability to tackle. As a nation we have the willingness and the prosperity to do so. It is not beyond us to give travellers a better quality of life from which their children can aspire to enjoy the prosperity of the country. If we are to achieve this we must have less political correctness and more honesty and realism. The Bill introduces some of this, but I hope my amendments will be accepted. This is not a one-dimensional problem, it must be tackled on all fronts simultaneously.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.