The Traveller accommodation expert group was established in 2018 by the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government with special responsibility for housing and urban development, Deputy Damien English. The group's function was to review the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 and other legislation affecting the provision and delivery of accommodation for Travellers. Its establishment reflects a commitment contained in a Programme for a Partnership Government and confirmed in the Government’s 2016 housing policy statement, Rebuilding Ireland, that the adequacy of arrangements for delivering accommodation for Travellers should be examined.
The expert group comprised three members. These were Dr. Norton and me, along with Mr. David Joyce, then at the Mercy Law Resource Centre, who chaired the group. I acknowledge his very important input to the report. He is now on the staff of the Oireachtas and not eligible to participate any further but he played a critical role in the expert group. The expert group presented its report to the Minister of State, Deputy English, and to the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee in July 2019. We are pleased to be have this opportunity to discuss the report and its recommendations with the members of the Oireachtas joint committee.
The expert group was assigned the following terms of reference: review the effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community, which takes effective implementation into account in the context of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017; examine national and international best practice in the provision of accommodation for nomadic communities to inform the legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community; review other legislation that affects the provision and delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation, including transient accommodation; consult all relevant stakeholders at local and national level, including Traveller representative organisations and other stakeholder groups represented on the national and local Traveller accommodation consultative committees; and draft and present a report and recommendations to the Minister within six months of commencement.
The expert group used several methods to understand the accommodation needs of Travellers and the issues and challenges associated with meeting these needs.
For instance, we reviewed the findings and recommendations made in key published reports and we examined data from key sources, including the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the census and the summary of social housing assessments. We also reviewed policy and practice in selected European countries, we received written and oral submissions from key stakeholders and will also held a round-table stakeholder workshop consultation. The group also met the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government in November 2018 and the Oireachtas Traveller Group on 16 April 2019. Group members took great care to ensure that the issues raised by the Deputies and Senators they met on those occasions were taken into account in our analysis.
Our analysis was based on all of these consultations, evidence and data. The report was prepared in a collaborative fashion, with all recommendations being agreed by all three of the expert group members. It sets out an integrated set of recommendations intended to improve the effectiveness of the arrangements for providing accommodation for members of the Traveller community, which were established by the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998. The recommendations address four key themes, which we identified as the key barriers to providing Traveller accommodation, including ensuring delivery reflects need, planning, as in land use or spatial planning, capacity and resources to deliver accommodation and governance of the delivery of it.
The review concludes that the arrangements established by the 1998 Act have important strengths and have enabled the delivery of significant amounts of accommodation for Travellers. However, they have failed to provide enough accommodation to meet the full scale of need among this community. This is evidenced by the extremely high rate of Traveller homelessness, the increase in the number of Traveller households sharing accommodation and living in overcrowded conditions and the uneven record of delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation among local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs. It is time to overhaul the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 and other relevant legislation and policies that impact on accommodation provision for Travellers.
A fundamental problem identified by the expert group relates to the lack of a strong evidence base for policymaking. The current system for assessing the scale and nature of Traveller accommodation need is not working effectively and this creates difficulty in reaching a consensus on the true level and nature of this community's accommodation needs.
The first theme discussed in the report is how to ensure that plans for delivery of Traveller accommodation reflect the actual needs and preferences of Travellers. The report sets out a series of recommendations intended to ensure that we have a more robust evidence base to inform planning for Traveller accommodation provision and implementation of these plans and monitoring of the outputs achieved. Monitoring of the implementation of Traveller accommodation programmes is required because in the expert group’s analysis there is an implementation gap between the number of accommodation units planned and the numbers delivered. Several local authorities have met or exceeded their targets, but others have failed to meet delivery targets, in some cases for an extended period. Opposition from residents' associations and councillors means that the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation is challenging, but the expert group's analysis indicates that the land use planning system is also a significant factor in delaying and blocking the delivery of accommodation.
The functioning of the Part 8 planning mechanism, which is used to deliver local authority social housing, gave cause for particular concern because the use of this mechanism requires the approval of councillors, which they regularly fail to provide. In addition, the acquisition and disposal of land by local authorities requires the approval of councillors and this is often not secured. Declining funding for Traveller-specific accommodation was identified by the group as a barrier to provision. Wider developments in housing policy over the past decade have inhibited Travellers' access to accommodation as well. In particular, increasing reliance on housing allowance for private rental households, such as rent supplement and the housing assistance payment, HAP, to house low-income households creates problems for Travellers because they face particularly strong barriers in securing and maintaining private rented tenancies.
The expert group was also concerned by the low delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation by voluntary sector AHBs because these organisations have provided a large proportion of social housing in recent years. Reforms to arrangements for allocating social housing, such as the use of choice-based lettings and allocation on the basis of time on the waiting list, also raised concerns because they have the potential to disadvantage Travellers. The outcomes of these mechanisms, in terms of their impact on the Traveller community and other particularly vulnerable groups, therefore, should be monitored.
Reforming national and local arrangements for governance of Traveller accommodation provision is vital if the accommodation needs of this community are to be met. At local level, the expert group recommends that local Traveller accommodation consultative committees, LTACCs, which exist in each local authority, be replaced with strategic policy committees for Traveller accommodation. This is intended to ensure that arrangements for the governance of Traveller accommodation provision are more closely aligned with arrangements for the governance of local authorities' other functions. At national level, the expert group recommends that the representative structure of the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee be maintained, but that its functions should be expanded, strengthened and properly resourced and it should be converted into a national Traveller accommodation authority.
We have provided all members of the committee with a copy of our report and we look forward to answering any questions on its contents.