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Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government debate -
Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019

Traveller Accommodation Expert Review: Discussion.

At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that for the duration of the meeting, their mobile phones are turned off completely or switched to airplane, safe or flight mode, depending on the device. It is not sufficient to just put phones on silent mode as this maintains the level of interference with the broadcasting system.

This meeting concerns the Traveller accommodation expert review. I welcome Professor Michelle Norris of University College Dublin, Dr. Conor Norton of the Technological University Dublin, and Ms Roslyn Molloy from the Housing Agency.

I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I call Professor Norris.

Professor Michelle Norris

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.

I thank Professor Norris for her opening statement. I propose to call members in the order in which they indicated, starting with Deputy Ó Broin.

I thank Professor Norris and her team for the report. I commend the group on turning around the report in a speedy timeframe given everybody was working in a voluntary capacity while also doing other work. However, I will express a degree of frustration, although not with anybody presenting to us. It is important to recall the origin of this expert group report was the report on the Traveller accommodation programmes produced by Professor Norris and others produced for the Housing Agency at the request of the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and published in January 2017. We were then told in 2018 that an expert group would be established to review that research and come up with recommendations. The group was established in September 2018 and the report was published this summer. As Traveller accommodation is an issue in which the committee has taken an interest and, as many members have been very vocal about it, in a good way, it is incumbent on the committee to send out the signal today that what we want now is speedy action from Government in the implementation of the recommendations. We cannot allow two good reports to be left gathering dust awaiting action. One of the key actions that needs to come out of this meeting, and our meeting with the Minister in a couple of weeks, is a commitment to a speedy timeline such that everybody knows what actions will be taken by Government, when they are going to be taken and in what way. It is only in this way we will move this issue on.

It is worthwhile reiterating that there is still a chronic underspend in Traveller accommodation budgets. There was a 45% underspend in respect of the 2017 budget. In every other area of social housing, there was an overspend that year, yet the Traveller accommodation budget was underspent. The underspend for the following year was 44% and ten local authorities spent nothing that year. While we do not have updated figures for this year, at the end of the first quarter, only 18% of the Traveller accommodation budget had been spent. The problem is chronic, and getting worse. It is important to emphasise that the majority what is being spent is being expended on refurbishments rather than new units. The refurbished units are important but the spend in this area highlights that the new units that are needed are not being provided, which is the reason homelessness among Traveller families is much higher than for others.

I support all 32 recommendations. While I am uncomfortable supporting some of them, I will support them and I encourage the Government to implement them. I also have some questions on them. I believe the recommendations relating to building the evidence base and establishing need should be implemented immediately. For example, there is no reason the identifier for allowing Traveller families to state a priority of preference-need in transfers from HAP and RAS could not be done immediately. There is no reason the Minister could not have that implemented before the end of the year. I am interested to know how the witnesses would like to see the legislation relating to Part 8, section 183 and An Bord Pleanála, work because if the Minister decides to enact those, which I hope he does, they will come before this committee. It is important, therefore, that the committee would have a clear understanding of how they witnesses would like the legislation and the operation of those legislative changes to work. These are the areas with which I am most uncomfortable because I am a strong advocate for allowing local authorities have maximum power. However, the evidence that local authorities have abused those powers is strong and if they are going to continue to do so, we will have to take them away from them, even on a temporary basis. I would welcome more detail on those recommendations.

On the strategic policy committees, SPCs, and Traveller accommodation, we are all former local authority and strategic policy committee members, I would welcome more detail on how the witnesses would like the SPCs to operate.

That would be useful because it might be something that would require a legislative change to the housing Acts that we can address.

On the State-wide agency and authorities for that transformation of the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee, could the witnesses give the committee more information on the exact role they would see it have? The Traveller representative bodies have made strong representations to us that it would have executive functions and would become a delivery body, so to speak. The witnesses do not go that far in their report but where would they like to see that body evolve? What powers would they like to see it have to do the kind of things they referred to in their opening statement?

I will go to Professor Norris first but if she wants to lean on colleagues, by all means she should do so.

Professor Michelle Norris

Dr. Norton will lead off on the planning questions. In respect of the rest of the questions, with regard to strengthening the evidence base for policy, that needs to be done immediately. I acknowledge that academics always say "strengthen the evidence base" but in this case we found that it was very difficult to get to the bottom of this, not the overall scale of accommodation need for Travellers which, as the Deputy mentioned, is now an emergency situation, but particularly preferences for Traveller-specific accommodation, that is, halting sites, group housing schemes and standard social housing or social housing and other private forms of housing. Those recommendations could be implemented immediately and that would strengthen the situation.

In terms of the funding, if the Deputy looks at the analysis of spending we put forward in the report he will see that the problem we face is that, overall among the local authorities, there is consistent failure to draw down all the funding allocated. However, if we look at it in more detail we see that the problem is that the local authorities responsible for areas where the Traveller population is growing most and that have the highest proportion of funding allocated are drawing down the least amount. Parts of the country where the population is growing are spending the least on additional Traveller accommodation. That is a real blockage. Other areas are spending more than their allocation. That needs to be addressed.

We also know from the report commissioned by the Housing Agency referred to by the Deputy that a huge proportion of the spending is on refurbishment rather than new delivery, particularly of Traveller-specific accommodation. Quite a proportion of Traveller-specific accommodation is being refurbished in the group housing scheme. There is no additional supply coming on-stream. That is another area we need to strengthen to see what exactly is being provided. I refer to the monitoring side of that.

In terms of the timeline for implementation, we identified short-term, medium-term and long-term measures. We agreed that homelessness among Travellers in particular and also the number of households camping on the roadside, which is approximately 600, is at emergency level so we are keen to see the recommendations implemented immediately or as quickly as possible.

On the recommendation about the strategic policy committees, SPCs, we noticed when we reviewed the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 that the Act itself is progressive legislation. It was comprehensive and introduced on foot of the Task Force of the Travelling Community, which was very comprehensive. One of the issues that has blocked its implementation is that there has been a range of other developments relating to planning law in the local government sector that superseded the arrangements in the 1998 Act. One of them, for instance, is the establishment of SPCs. Local Traveller accommodation consultative committees were set up under the 1998 Act. They have only advisory status. Local government was then reformed and SPCs were set up with responsibility for the local authorities' different functions. The Traveller consultative committees just report to an SPC. They are outside the current system, so to speak, and we felt that giving them the status of an SPC would bring them into the core of the local government system and ensure their recommendations were acted upon.

We also highlighted some problems in the operation of the committees, particularly in respect of supporting the Traveller community representatives.

On the national body, the entire report focused on the blockages to implementation of the Traveller accommodation legislation. A key blockage is that nobody is enforcing implementation at the central level. No one is monitoring effectively what is being done. There is some monitoring but in our view it is not effective monitoring. In respect of the funding not being drawn down and the accommodation not being provided, no one is monitoring that and enforcing implementation. We felt that the authority would have this role in terms of reviewing the evidence base, ensuring it is strengthened, monitoring what is being done at local authority level and, if necessary, referring local authorities to the national planning regulator to ensure their implementation can be enforced. The planning recommendations in the report reflect the fact that local authority managers have the power to bypass any vetoes on the implementation of the Traveller accommodation programme.

We had recommended a relatively small but properly staffed body to implement its functions, managed by a similar representative board along the lines of the current national Traveller accommodation consultative committee. We did not recommend that it would do delivery centrally. In terms of the reason for that, I wish to acknowledge that delivering Traveller specific accommodation is extremely challenging for local authorities. It is not an easy function. We felt that having it delivered at local level by people with local expertise who were aware of the local planning issues was the best way to proceed but where implementation is not happening, somebody needs to be monitoring and identifying that centrally and enforcing implementation.

Dr. Conor Norton

On those two points, the first point I would like to make is that we sought to put the planning recommendations in a broader context. I refer to longer-term and shorter-term recommendations. In the longer term, we want to see systemic change in planning, the legislation, general guidance, policy and a better alignment of areas. The Deputy can see those in the recommendations we make. In the shorter term, however, we are recognising and responding to the existing need. We are recommending a five-year period, which is really the end of the planning process - the delivery stage. From reading the previous reports and the consultations we have had, one area that keeps returning is the section 8 provisions within the planning code.

There are two elements to our recommendation. The first element is that in the short term, while we are putting in place the changes to the planning system, the decision-making on the Part 8 function would switch from a reserved function, which lies with the local representatives, to an executive function so it would lie with the chief executive for a temporary period.

To balance that, we would draw attention to the fact that we would like to immediately see that reinforced, even in this period, and retaining the role of the local elected representatives in the Traveller accommodation programme, TAP, in the housing strategy and in the development plans, to ensure that any concerns about local democracy, local consultation, engagement, etc. can be addressed in that sense. That is a short-term recommendation.

I would have a similar concern about shifting decision making from local authorities into the centre but in this particular instance, we would recommend that, for this shorter-term period, to address delivery we would have an alternative route for decision making to An Bord Pleanála and that that would be similar in nature, although not the same, to the provisions that currently exist for strategic housing development.

Obviously, we consider that there is a strong need for it in this instance. I probably would not be in support of these provisions, in that as a planner, I am not generally in support of provisions that would move local decision-making out of the local arena.

The Deputy asked what it might look like. It would be ideal, were the proposals to be brought forward on foot of the TAP and the development plan. The executive develops the proposals and brings them forward for local consultation and engagement. At a certain point in time when decision-making is required, that provision is made to submit those proposals to An Bord Pleanála. As with strategic housing development, a consultative process is available within the board to allow those who have made or wish to make representations locally to get engaged in that.

Some design would be required for this process. Perhaps some of the lessons that have been learned regarding strategic housing development could be added to that, in respect of revisions, additional information and so on.

I reiterate the point that those short-term measures are within the context of longer-term systemic changes to legislation and the very basic policy foundations in planning to deal with Traveller accommodation.

I thank both Senators Boyhan and Hackett for allowing me to speak because I am due to be in the Seanad Chamber at 10.30 a.m.

Following on from Deputy Ó Broin's remarks, I thank the witnesses today for their great work. Like many of those in attendance, I speak with a certain amount of experience of the Traveller accommodation issue. I was an incidental landlord and rented property to a Traveller family for a long time very successfully. I have seen at first hand the intimidation and discrimination that takes place against families who are trying their best.

As a member of a local authority who had quite an amount of Traveller accommodation in my direct home area, I never objected at all but actively encouraged and supported quality Traveller accommodation. That leads me to a couple of questions, because we were able to get around many issues through the use by the county manager - or CEO in today's terms - of emergency powers to circumvent and build emergency accommodation and I note one recommendation is that these should be used more.

Where does best practice take place? The review group has looked at all the local authorities in the country. If one was to identify best practice, is there a local authority that has used the structures and supports that are there to a certain degree of success? The overarching point is that nationally, we have a diabolical record in accommodating members of the Traveller community. Can the witnesses give a good example in this regard? As there are powers in place, where have they been used successfully? While we absolutely need to bring in more powers where they are needed, there are powers available that are not being used.

Has the review group done any investigation - I have not read the report in detail - as to whether approved housing bodies have stepped up to the plate to a large degree with regard to their responsibilities? Perhaps legislation is needed to ensure that a percentage of their work, and of the houses they allocate would be Traveller-specific. I will start with those questions and may have a couple of follow-on questions afterwards.

Professor Michelle Norris

I thank the Senator for his questions.

On the emergency powers issue, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Limerick City and County Council have successfully used these powers successfully. There also have been a couple of other instances where they have been used but have failed following a court challenge. I acknowledge that we met representatives of a large number of local authorities and of the County and City Management Association. The chief executives of local authorities are in a challenging position in using emergency powers. Their job depends on working with the councillors, the elected members of the local authority, as regards all the other local authority functions and in striking a budget. Stepping in and using emergency powers is always difficult. We feel that on occasion, it is necessary to address these blockages to delivery that we have mentioned.

In the short term, these emergency powers could be used more widely before the legislation is amended to make Part 8 an executive function for a period, as we have suggested.

On good practice, another challenge we identified regarding the delivery of halting site and group housing scheme accommodation concerns the design of that type of accommodation, taking account of the need for the accommodation of horses and to support Travellers in their activities in gathering and selling scrap metal, for instance. Trying to design and deliver such accommodation well in high-density settings like towns or cities is challenging. Moreover, when local authorities or approved housing bodies deliver mainstream social housing, they also design and deliver it. There is not generally a great deal of consultation with the people getting the accommodation. People are accommodated from the housing list and then move into the accommodation. It is different when Traveller-specific accommodation is delivered because it often is for a specific extended family group that is looking for halting site accommodation together. There is a need for an extended period of consultation in working with that community, which can be very challenging and time-consuming. It is a particular challenge for approved housing bodies. Often, they do not have the wider staff to allow them to do that. Under the funding model, they get the money for the project when it is let, that is, when they get the rent.

One recommendation we made concerns a small organisation called CENA, a Traveller-led body that was set up as a housing association to provide accommodation. It has done some valuable work with different local authorities and in consulting with Travellers who are seeking Traveller-specific accommodation on their preferences, as well as advising on the design. Were this organisation centrally funded by the Department, that also would enable the delivery of more Traveller-specific accommodation. A good example of that is Offaly County Council, where CENA have worked successfully with the council. It is also working with Clúid Housing Association separately, which is another good practice example.

Does Professor Norris believe that funding is not necessarily the issue? Funding has been allocated at national government level but the challenge is with local authorities putting in place the infrastructure to draw down that funding.

Professor Michelle Norris

Capital funding has fallen, which we acknowledge in the report, and we believe it should be increased. The Senator is correct that the key problem, however, is with the drawdown of capital funding for the construction or refurbishment of the dwellings. There is not so much revenue funding for these activities, compared with what is available on the consultation side of it. We felt that a relatively small amount of funding to support CENA, the organisation we identified that is already doing this activity, could help a great deal.

Professor Michelle Norris

On the question of the approved housing bodies, we met these bodies and their representative body. We have figures in the report on Travellers' success in getting into mainstream social housing accommodation. We acknowledged that Travellers get more mainstream council housing pro rata than the size of their community would suggest. They are successful in getting into mainstream council housing; there is just not enough of it. They are also successful in getting into approved housing body, AHB, housing, albeit not at the same rate as getting into council housing. The specific issues we identified with the approved housing bodies is their role in the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation. They are now major providers of social housing but the level of Traveller-specific accommodation provided by approved housing bodies is extremely low.

We identified only two or three sites. As they are now major providers of social housing, we would like to see more of that.

Why is the number of Travellers being given accommodation by approved housing bodies lower than it should be? Say that 15 houses are to be allocated, and the local authority give the approved housing body a list of 13 names, ten of whom are Travellers. The Travellers still might not be allocated a house. Has Professor Norris done any research on why that figure is so low?

Professor Michelle Norris

No. These are just our own analyses of the data from the annual census of Travellers, which we already acknowledge is problematic. It is impossible to know definitively how many Travellers get into mainstream social housing because there is no ethnic identifier on the application for social housing. We base our estimates on other censuses and surveys of the population but we do not actually know the real figures. One of the recommendations in the report is that Travellers should have the opportunity to identify their ethnicity when applying for social housing. That would obviously be voluntary but that provision would be there and would allow us to monitor the numbers more closely. Those figures on success rates are from our own analysis of the data.

Would Professor Norris agree that a CEO of a local authority not using emergency powers because he or she wants to curry favour with the elected members at budget time is simply not good enough? Not only does the Department need to show more leadership in this area, but so too do CEOs and elected members in local authorities.

Professor Michelle Norris

Yes, there needs to be leadership. The problem among the Traveller community is extremely acute, particularly regarding homelessness. We discuss this in the report. The number of homeless Travellers in Dublin indicates that their risk of homelessness is ten times higher than that of the settled population. There is no doubt that leadership is extremely important. While the policies at national level could do with some reform, they are generally strong. The problem is with implementation.

I absolutely accept and welcome those recommendations, all of which must be implemented by the Government. It really annoys me that there are provisions in place under the current structure which are not being used effectively.

I thank Senator Conway. Did Professor Norris want to respond to that comment?

Professor Michelle Norris

I think Dr. Norton wanted to make a point.

Dr. Conor Norton

Emergency provisions exist and should be used for immediate actions but it is not in any way sustainable to have to lean on emergency provisions. In the context of our larger proposals, there are things we probably need to do now, as well as short-term recommendations. Five years is considered short term for planning. We then need to look at the longer-term fixing of the system. Emergency provisions should be used to tackle the current crisis or emergency, but we cannot run a system on the basis of emergency responses.

I thank the witnesses, Professor Norris in particular, for their extensive body of work. I was taken by Senator Conway's remarks about leadership. I have no difficulty with what he said but the reality is that all parties and none are represented on these local authorities. We do not have to go far from Dublin and its suburbs to see the track record of people from all political parties and none. It is all very well saying that they all need to be responsible but that must be echoed through parties' memberships and contacts. I do not want to rehearse the issues Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, of which I am a former councillor, has had. Some of those problems were very recent and related to the disposal of lands identified for Traveller accommodation, with the support of the political establishment. That must be remembered. I will leave it there because that matter will be revisited at some stage and there will be some questions around it in the next week or two. We can talk about that again.

I do not agree with all of Professor Norris's recommendations. I will be honest and tell her why that is. I do not believe in the erosion of powers of democratically elected public representatives. That is something for which I have always argued strongly. The professor and her team will be aware that we have a revolving, five-year county development process and that there is extensive public consultation and engagement on the planning process, planning cost, etc. The witnesses will also be aware that each local authority adopts a housing strategy and a housing needs strategy, which it puts in place. The local authorities actively engage with the Traveller community about its needs. Some are better at it than others, which is an issue. The Traveller accommodation programme, TAP, is identified and marked with symbols on county development plan maps. There is a sense of certainty there for the Traveller community, its advocates and everybody else in the community. A county development plan is a contract with a citizen. It gives a certain degree of certainty about the future of the sustainable planning of the area, which is to be welcomed. For this reason, I do not support the suggestion that we could somehow suspend some of the critical powers and functions of the elected members of local authorities. We should focus on, and come down heavy upon, local authority members who are discriminatory in their conduct, language or approach to Traveller accommodation. I do not support any of that.

Good councillors of all parties and none have worked with the Traveller community and advanced Traveller accommodation. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has performed well in this area. The local authority has adopted the TAP as part of its housing strategy and has identified Traveller accommodation on its development plan. The problem is the delivery and execution, which rests with the executive - the crowd to which Professor Norris wants to give more powers. She has suggested suspending the powers of the elected members and giving powers to the executive. Has she asked questions of the executive? I see from the back of the report that a substantial number of them have made contributions, which I welcome. However, our focus must be on the executive because ultimately the policy of the council is adopted by its elected members. It has reserve functions, as we know. The executive needs to roll out the policy. The sale of that site in Dún Laoghaire was supported and initiated by the executive. We all know that. The facts speak for themselves.

The report recommends that we request further research and a review from the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, of Traveller accommodation policies and objectives. That is a very good proposal. We should do that because we need facts.

On Part 8 guidelines and so on, could the witnesses provide the committee with some exact detail of where they found elected members to have strayed, erred or gone off course? I want to home in on which local authorities we are talking about. Where were there particular difficulties? We know that some local authorities perform better than others. We need to address the issue of where councils have abused or misused their powers or in some way frustrated the roll-out of approved TAPs. We must get to the facts and cannot deal in generalisations. Those are a few of my concerns but we need to focus on the roll-out of plans that have been adopted. I have a number of them in mind. I lived next door to Traveller accommodation. I subsequently sold my house and I have bought a site next to another Traveller accommodation site where I intend to build a house. I have no difficulty with that and work very closely with them.

I have a few more issues. The ethnic identifier does not sit easy with me as I do not like when people talk of ethnic identifiers. Professor Norris mentioned that it might be a voluntary code. How is she engaging with the Traveller community on that? I raised this issue of an ethnic identifier with a Traveller yesterday and it did not sit comfortably with that individual. I now raise it with Professor Norris here today. I wanted to flag that.

Page 4 of Professor Norris's submission refers to councillors and the acquisition and disposal of land. Councillors do not approve the acquisitions of lands, which is one of the problems.

The executive can go ahead and acquire land without any consultation with the elected members. Issues only arise in respect of how the executive is going to fund such acquisitions. Councillors have no role or function in the acquisition of property, although they do, as was mentioned, have a role in the disposal of property. I will not support any move to take that power away from those elected members.

Last, the proposal for a national Traveller accommodation authority is a good one but it must have real teeth. Is it envisaged that such a body would have executive or non-executive powers? Deputy Ó Broin spoke on that but I ask the witnesses to address it. This is a really good body of work and a good start but we should leave the powers with the elected members. This has been a good exercise. Traveller communities across the country work well with local councils on the whole and in the main. The focus should be on why we not delivering on existing plans that are ten, 15 or 20 years old, plans which have been voted on and successfully approved. Why is that not happening?

I call Professor Norris.

Professor Michelle Norris

I thank Senator Boyhan for his comments. I will deal with the ethnic identifier aspect first. An ethnic identifier would have to be voluntary under the general data protection regulation, GDPR. People always mention that, but it does mean it would have to be voluntary. We had extensive discussions with local authority social workers who interact with Travellers and have detailed and in-depth knowledge of the Traveller community. They told us that some Travellers did not wish to identify as Travellers and obviously that is their right.

We face the problem that it is difficult to monitor how many Travellers are getting into accommodation and the level of need. An ethnic identifier would address those issues. We also suggested other changes where Travellers could identify a preference for the type of accommodation they wanted as in standard housing at No. 1, a halting site at No. 2 etc. The Traveller representative bodies in particular suggested to us that Travellers felt pressured into always identifying standard social housing as the first option, whether they wanted it or not. That was because they felt their chance of getting halting site accommodation was so poor.

We had meetings with the Traveller representative bodies. I do not wish to speak on their behalf but my impression of their views is that they support the ethnic voluntary identifier. The data are so weak that it is hard to know definitively how much delivery there is. Local authorities, which are not delivering, are able to hide behind the figures and claim there is no demand for Traveller-specific accommodation, when the Traveller representative bodies are stating there is such demand. That was something we were anxious to address by ensuring we have robust data.

Turning to the comments on the diminution of powers of elected members of local authorities, I share the Senator's view that the powers of those elected members should not be diminished any further. In this case, however, we feel that the situation with Traveller accommodation is at an emergency level now. I know many sections of the community face strong pressures in gaining access to housing, particularly people facing affordability challenges. Travellers, though, face all those pressures too, being a population which generally has a low income, as well as the added pressures deriving from discrimination regarding access to properties. There are also practical pressures, given that the average size of a Traveller household is three times the size of a settled household. Trying to get accommodation for a family with a large number of children in the Dublin area is impossible with HAP because the properties are simply not on the market. Given all of that, we believe there is an argument for suspending some of the functions of councillors on an emergency and short-term basis.

On the comments concerning the quality of work being done in TAPs and their implementation, I again share the Senator's view that in many cases, good work is being done. I acknowledge that. This is a challenging area and one in which it is far from easy to work. If these issues were easy, they would have been resolved by now. Our analysis indicates that quality varies around the country. Some local authorities have very good Traveller accommodation consultative committees that are working very well and have good relationships with the Traveller representatives on the committee. In other areas, however, they are effectively non-functional and the quality of the Traveller accommodation programmes varies nationally.

The key issue, however, is the implementation of those programmes. The process is that a local authority publishes a Traveller accommodation programme, which is then sent to the Department and the Department allocates money based on the programme. The local authorities, therefore, make the request for the money. In the relevant table in the report, it will be seen that there is major variation in the level of drawdown. The problem, in particular, is that the drawdown is weak in local authority areas where the Traveller population is rising. Some of those areas identified in the report are Dublin city, Cork city and county and Longford. We examined in some depth why drawdown was not happening and Dr. Norton can speak further on Part 8. One concern we had, however, was that all of the effort put into devising the plans was not then matched by their translation into development plans. Senator Boyhan mentioned the example of Dún Laoghaire, but it is not the case in every local authority that sites are identified in development plans. There is often a disconnect and that is a problem.

Is that a recommendation?

Professor Michelle Norris

That is a recommendation.

It is good to hear it.

Professor Michelle Norris

We also identified that, in some cases, there is a blockage at the final stage in respect of councillors agreeing to the disposal of land, as that is in their power and not that of the executive. There is also the matter of agreeing to initiate Part 8 and getting planning started for Traveller-specific accommodation. Looking at the figures for Traveller-specific accommodation, they are not great, as I keep mentioning. What seems to be happening is that there is a great deal of spending on the refurbishment of existing halting sites. That spending sometimes involves the demolition of a halting site and the building of a group housing scheme on the same site. Little additional Traveller-specific accommodation is being supplied and that is where Part 8 needs to come into play. Dr. Norton will answer in more depth on that aspect.

Dr. Conor Norton

I agree with much of what the Senator said. Looking at the local level process in a broader context, this report would hope, ultimately, that planning processes for the creation of TAPs etc. is strengthened in the short to medium term. I refer to trying to harmonise the TAP, the housing strategy and the development plan. We make recommendations in those areas. It is our strong view that there should be increased involvement of local communities and elected representatives in the formulation of the TAP and the development of good policies locally. Essentially, this entails providing a clear pathway for the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation. In the short term, given the inconsistent delivery of accommodation and the emergency nature of the situation, I note some local authorities have been exemplary while others have not been in a position to deliver. It is that inconsistency that concerns us in the short term. The measures we are suggesting are only intended to be short term. I refer to final decision-making on Part 8 and to the disposal, not the acquisition, of land per se. We envisage that the role of local elected members will not be diminished in any way in respect of forward planning, preparation of the TAP etc. We would like to see that role enhanced and further aligned with the housing strategy and development plan.

Recommendation No. 5 is very important. We are operating in a situation where we do not have good data or evidence.

There is no national register for us to draw on regarding Part 8 and delivery of housing for Travellers. We have an imperfect knowledge base from which to work. It would be useful to engage with the Office of the Planning Regulator, in its role in research and so forth in the planning area, to dig deeper into that. That would be a fairly big piece of work. One would have to look through each and every local authority or housing authority. That is an important point and could be pushed on in the immediate term.

The Senator is correct in suggesting that the executive side has responsibilities in delivery. It should not be seen that we are targeting local authority members. The executive side has a great responsibility in the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation at local level. Again, we see an important role for the Office of the Planning Regulator arising in this regard. It will have a role in reviewing development plans and other such plans across the country. It could have a role in looking at the specific arrangements and policies made for Traveller-specific accommodation, the local objectives etc. More importantly, it could see if there some consistency across different local authorities in this area.

I now call Senator Hackett for her first contribution to the committee. She is very welcome here.

I am substituting for Senator Kelleher. This is my first committee meeting. Please bear with me as I try to formulate my thoughts and notes.

I thank the independent expert group for its presentation, observations and findings. It is a welcome report. I also appreciate and acknowledge that the Traveller representative organisations have also welcomed these findings and recommendations. It is important to be cognisant that with no Traveller representation on this committee and on the expert group, the phrase “nothing about us without us” comes to mind. It is vital we keep lines of communication completely transparent and open between the committee and its work, as well as any future work from the Department, and the Traveller community. Otherwise, that is where many problems can arise.

Coming from County Offaly, I am well aware of the frustrations regarding Traveller accommodation both within the Traveller community and those outside of it. During my short stint as a councillor on Offaly County Council, I was rather disappointed to find out there was a significant underspend of departmental funding for Traveller accommodation purposes. Although it is not unique to Offaly, it needs further examination. I am aware Professor Norris alluded to this in her answers already. We need far greater communication among Traveller representative groups, local communities, local authorities and Departments. Otherwise, I fear we will never see an end to this problem facing this particularly vulnerable section of our society.

I also appreciate that CENA Housing Association has worked well with Offaly County Council. That is promising and progressive.

Some members brought up the issue of an ethnic identifier. Is there a way of finding more information in this regard through the Traveller representative groups? Have they details on Travellers in social housing? Has this been explored already?

As I was prepared for a Minister to be present, I have had to slightly change my questions but can the expert group suggest a timeline for the implementation of its short-term recommendations? Does the expert group envisage that each local authority should be instructed to have a Traveller unit in its structures, according with best practice guidelines in delivering that service? It has been indicated to me that local authorities have used allocations for Traveller accommodation to hire security firms to assist in evictions? Did this crop up with the expert group? Given that a €1.5 million increase was given for Traveller accommodation in budget 2020, mostly going towards refurbishments, what does the expert group believe the budgetary intention or the proposal under these new structures should be? What is the shortfall in this regard?

The recommendations under the chapter on capacity and resources are crucial. The practical concerns in terms of Traveller accommodation need more support. Issues such as waste management and water services are relatively cost-effective ways of improving accommodation for Travellers. Greater supports in those would assist greatly. The expert group indicated how household size is different. That practical aspect needs to be considered. Some of those aspects are not particularly costly; it is just about providing a service.

Professor Michelle Norris

The chair of the expert group is a member of the Traveller community but is unable to be here today. He is a barrister and led on the legal recommendations of the report.

We suggested an ethnic identifier for applications for social housing because it is a means of tracking who is getting into social housing. We raised some concerns in the report that there are new innovations in the allocation of social housing. For instance, some local authorities have what they call a choice-based lettings scheme. This is where one looks up properties available on a website and makes an application over the Internet. This is valuable from the point of view of efficiency and avoiding vacancies. For groups such as Travellers, however, who may have literacy issues and may not have access to electricity, let alone access to the Internet, we felt these schemes create risks that need to be monitored. One way of doing this is through an ethnic identifier for applications.

We also included some recommendations on making the census of population more robust by working with Traveller bodies to come up with a more robust estimate of the size of the population. We need to emphasise that this is voluntary. It is up to people and families to identify themselves as Travellers or not.

On the security firms for evictions, we did not come with figures on that. It was raised in some of the submissions from the Traveller bodies.

We also did not come up with specific recommendations regarding the increase in funding because it was challenging to come up with a specific figure. Funding has fallen but there has been a failure to draw down funding. Table No. 5.4 on page 50 of the report gives the record per local authority over the past ten years. There has been a failure to draw down funding but the amount of funding has also fallen. The main need for additional funding is for additional supply. The evidence we have is that much of the existing capital funding is spent on the refurbishment of existing Traveller-specific units, which is valuable. There is, however, a need to focus on providing funding for additional new supply of Traveller-specific accommodation and a proper monitoring of what is spent on supply and on refurbishment.

Some rural local authorities raised with us that they have much demand from Traveller households for rural social housing such as small cottages in the country. This would be a valuable source of funding but they currently cannot draw from the Traveller-specific accommodation fund. Instead, they are having to fund this from the mainstream social housing side. They recommended that as an additional source of supply.

We did not make specific recommendations on local authority staffing because we feel the needs vary by local authority.

Some of the urban local authorities had large Traveller accommodation sections, and that is useful, but some of the rural local authorities did not.

We put one specific recommendation in place regarding spending on caretakers and on more robust management of halting sites. It was our view and that of some of the local authorities and Traveller groups we met that there are problems with the management of Traveller-specific accommodation. This is driving some of the objections and concerns from the wider community. We felt that spending in that area would achieve a lot of dividends. In the report, we mention the aim of making the estate management function more robust. In response, some of the local authorities raised concerns with us that this would mean spending on anti-social behaviour but that is not what we meant. We meant spending on proper management, on dealing with vacant units - which are a big problem on some halting sites - and on ensuring that any waste is dealt with quickly and that there is better maintenance. A relatively small spend in that area across the local authority sector would improve things.

Dr. Conor Norton

I will answer a couple of the other points that were raised. It is important that there is Traveller representation throughout the process. I will sum up our recommendations across the different areas. We are basically looking for more efficient and integrated practices at different levels, from involvement in a new national agency to greater and closer engagement within the SPCs, for example, at local authority level, in order to direct engagement in TAPs and development plans and in the preparation of individual proposals for Traveller-specific accommodation. Those are critical matters in respect of which the Traveller community needs to be engaged. That will form part of what was mentioned about the great need for integrated planning and design guidance for Traveller accommodation. This is one of our medium to long-term recommendations. Work could commence on that almost immediately. That would look at what best practice is in forming policy and in preparing TAPs or housing strategies that have made proper provision for Traveller accommodation. It would also include guidance on preparing and developing proposals. Although a little dated, the design guidance that is in place would integrate everything and be responsive to the needs of Travellers in particular. This is a key element of one of our long-term proposals and it would underpin practice throughout the planning system.

Members mentioned timelines. We have not provided a matrix or anything of that nature. We have tried to differentiate between immediate actions, short-term actions and the sort of actions we want to end up with. If one takes the planning proposals and recommendations, we see five years as being the likely horizon for making all the changes so that we have a planning system that is fit for purpose, so that we have the policies in place and so that we produce plans that are in line with good practice, etc. Five years would be an outside time period. If we work back to that, circulars, which were mentioned earlier, could be initiated rapidly and we could start working on legislative changes and provisions that have to pass through the normal processes that would take 18 months to two years. The members of the committee are the experts in that area. It is a phased approach but it is probably fair to say we should see this as a five-year project.

I thank our guests for their presentation. As previous speakers noted, it has taken a long time to get here and we appreciate how quickly the review group has acted in preparing its report. We thank it for that. A lot of this has probably been dealt with and we have spoken about many of these issues already. One of those issues is the collection of data and how important that is moving forward. Some of these are easy fixes in the sense that they could be done in a fairly straightforward manner, including that additional details such as those relating to the type of accommodation involved could be included on the housing application form. These are all basic and simple issues that could be fixed quite readily if the will is there to do so.

I will move to the more complicated and controversial matter of the local authority members themselves. Most people in this room do not want to remove powers from the local authority members. In fact, we want to give them more powers if possible. Failing to include local authority members in this process might have a worse effect in the long term when we try to integrate people into the communities or to deliver these projects at the end of the day. To develop that point, I sat on a local authority for 12 years and we had to take some tough decisions. Professor Norris mentioned objections from councillors and resident's associations. Sometimes I question how much energy, from the point of view of administration, is put into Traveller accommodation and into resolving the problem relating to it. Ultimately, the county council does not realistically get involved until something is put in front of it. I sometimes question whether the will is there at the management level. The report clearly indicates that the chief executive of a local authority has emergency powers to do this if he or she so desires. How many chief executives of local authorities across the country have used the emergency powers to help resolve the Traveller accommodation problem? How many part A planning processes for Traveller accommodation have members of local authorities voted down versus the percentage that have been voted through? Do we know the statistics for that? I am trying to be objective here. I do not like to see powers of local authority members being taken away. We need to look at other ways of trying to incentivise local authority members to be engaged in this process because they have a fundamental role in the integration of the Traveller accommodation problem at the end of the day. If we remove those powers from them, we could be creating another problem.

I want to move on to the planning process. Our guests referred to strategic housing developments, SHDs, and the board proposal. We had a huge debate here on the SHDs only a couple of weeks ago. A lot of us have a fundamental problem with the consultation process in the SHDs. This is not a Traveller accommodation issue, it is an issue with planning itself because at this stage a number of communities in my county would not have had their local area plan reviewed for 12 years and then the next minute the SHD process is forced on them without them having had any engagement on it. I have no problem with the principles of that process but I do have a difficulty with how we get there. I would be fully supportive of the need for county development plans and local development plans to be developed to a much higher level of detail. We need to clearly indicate what every piece of land will be used for and the type of design that will be used. A great deal more effort must be put into the consultation also. At that point and from there on I would not have a problem with the SHD process but that process involves more than Traveller accommodation. It has a broader remit. The SHD process has good points but one of the weaknesses was in the area of the consultation process. I would like to get some feedback on those issues.

Professor Norris stated that the majority of the money is being spent on renovations as opposed to being spent on new deliveries. We spent a good few years of delivering nothing, be it social houses or Traveller accommodation. Do we have a percentage for the amount of money that is spent on new deliveries as opposed to renovation works?

I have not read the full report, only bits of it. I have two charts in front of me: one on the spend and the other on the population. Is there a correlation between the allocation of money and the population of Travellers in each county or area?

Dr. Conor Norton

I will deal with the planning matters raised by Deputy Casey. Professionally, I am a planner also and strongly agree with the sentiment expressed by the Deputy about making sure local decision-making takes place at a local level. I am also a member of the Irish Planning Institute. We are strongly in favour of returning the proposals for strategic housing developments back to local level. I believe in local democracy. From our perspective, this situation is unique. It is perhaps an emergency. Inconsistent delivery is an issue and a problem that has been highlighted repeatedly. It was raised in the consultation on numerous occasions. We produced a detailed report on our consultation and Part 8 kept cropping up. What we are suggesting is that it is very much a short-term measure and that it be put in place, pending the fixes made to the planning system. The critical point, on which Deputy Casey put his finger, is that there is a need for better local plans and local resourcing. We need to be more specific in the plan-making process about what we mean in the context of the provision of Traveller accommodation. The evidence must be available and we must be far more specific and give a clearer indication to the community, the elected representatives and others as to where we intend to develop Traveller-specific accommodation, how we are supposed to provide it and the timeline involved.

We have found that it is not consistently the approach across local authorities. Therefore, we are suggesting it be a short-term measure. In a situation where there is a fixed planning system, ideally, what we would have is planning and design guidance that would show the way local authorities could plan better Traveller accommodation in some consistent framework which would also provide backup guidance on design and other matters. In the guidance one would also wrap methodologies for assessing demand and also perhaps consultation and dealing with other such matters. There could be comprehensive and integrated guidance that would provide the basis for returning the decision-making processes to the local level, certainly at the end of the Part 8 process. Some of the issues we have had in this area include that planning for the provision of Traveller-specific accommodation is a long-term process, at the very end of which is a decision-making stage under Part 8 involving the elected representatives. We suggest there be a suspension of it for a short period and a review while we make the larger fixes to the planning system.

I agree with Deputy Casey. We have lessons to learn from strategic housing development. It might perhaps be extended for a further period of two years, but, like the provisions we are proposing for Traveller-specific accommodation, the processes will return to the local level, at which time we would have comprehensive and robust guidelines for how we would manage the planning and design of Traveller-specific accommodation.

Professor Michelle Norris

I share Deputy Casey's concerns about the diminution of functions of councillors. I mentioned at the start that we had agreed a joint report. All three of us signed up to the recommendations, but as the Deputy can imagine, it is fair to characterise the debate between the three of us on the various recommendations made as lively. I share the concerns about the diminution of functions. I agree that in ideal circumstances the accommodation to be provided for groups such as Travellers should be agreed to collectively within communities through the forum provided by the elected local authority. That is one of the reasons I personally was not keen on the idea of having a central body for delivery because I felt it could be counterproductive. Also, there are local issues of which local authorities know because they are active on the ground and with which a central body would spend years trying to catch up. That said, there is evidence that the initiation, in particular, of Part 8 developments presents a problem. it is also true that the emergency powers mentioned by the Deputy are underused. I gave two examples, namely, Limerick City and County Council and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, both of which have used them successfully. Colleagues in the law department at NUIG law produced an interesting report on the use of emergency powers which was unsuccessful in the sense that they had been successfully challenged in the courts. We can make the report available to the Chairman. From memory, it identified about six occasions on which the emergency powers had been used in other local authorities. They have been used rarely, despite the critical nature of the issue involved.

It is also true that often issues such as the location of sites are not mentioned in county development plans and that plans are not updated often enough. There are general problems in the planning system that create particular problems in the provision of Traveller accommodation.

Deputy Casey referred to the point I had made about the spend on Traveller accommodation in each local authority area.

Deputy Pat Casey took the Chair.

Professor Michelle Norris

There is a table on page 41 which shows the breakdown of the spend on refurbishment versus new supply. It indicates that 54% of the spend on Traveller accommodation in the past ten years was on refurbishment. There is a lot of spending on items such as caravan loans. The spend on the supply of halting sites was 14.7% and 18.4% on the supply of group housing schemes. As I indicated, on some occasions the group housing schemes are to replace existing halting sites. Does that make sense?

Yes. It does not add to overall stock.

Professor Michelle Norris

It is very difficult to get to the bottom of the matter. I do not wish to imply that there should be a cut in spending on the refurbishment of Traveller-specific accommodation, but it is critical that funding be made available for new supply.

The other point made by Deputy Casey was related to the allocation of funding to local authorities and whether it reflected the size of the local Traveller population. To my knowledge, it does not. It reflects what local authorities state they need in the Traveller accommodation plan. The allocation they receive more or less matches what they have requested.

Also in the report we look at the differences in drawdown by local authorities. The breakdown is to be found in table 5.4. In table 3.2 we look at the growth in the Traveller population countrywide. The population is growing and Travellers are also splitting in more separate households, just like the settled population, which means that the need for housing is growing. If we compare the problems in drawing down funding to the increase in population, I have mentioned a number of local authorities where it is problematic, where their record is not strong and the Traveller population is growing. They include Dublin City Council, Longford County Council, Cork City Council and Cork County Council. In all of these areas the Traveller population is growing substantially, while the drawdown of the budget allocated is weak. There are some others areas where the Traveller population is falling and the local authorities concerned are drawing down 100% of their allocation.

I thank the delegates for their presentations. I apologise as I was slightly delayed owing to having to attend another meeting, but I have read the opening statement and looked through the report.

My colleagues have asked a number of questions. I do not propose to go back over them, but I wish to make some observations. I fully understand the problems in grappling with the recommendations made in respect of local authorities and considering how we can expedite the delivery of housing. I represent the constituency of Dublin Fingal which has a sizeable Traveller population. There is a real issue in providing Traveller accommodation.

We have been better than many other local authorities. I know the drawdown might not show that.

I am very interested in the Part 8 process that Deputy Carey asked about. Do the witnesses have recent data on how many times members of local authorities have voted against a Part 8 process for delivery of Traveller accommodation? In all my time as a public representative, since 2004 - I was only three short years on the council, but I keep a close eye on it - I have not been aware of any in Fingal. I am aware of one injunction that was taken very recently and the court ruled for that. I do not think that is the issue. Removing those powers – I know it is only a temporary recommendation – may have the unintended consequence of making the situation worse. I believe local authorities need to remove the veil of secrecy around delivery of purpose-built Traveller accommodation. The majority of Travellers who I interact with on housing issues want Traveller-specific accommodation. The veil of secrecy covers purchase of land such that things are found out only after the event. Particularly with the rural nature of some of the land purchases, more work can be done with communities. For example, there is a very good Traveller accommodation scheme close to where I live and as part of that scheme the local authority brought the main sewer up the lane to deliver 15 purpose-built homes for Travellers, which is great, but it did not allow any of the local residents connect to the mains. There are simple things like that, not bringing it further down the road, that are a question of consultation. The executives and planners at local authority level need to carry the can for much of that. It tends to be that when people find out that the land has been purchased, as in the recent case where the injunction was successful in the High Court, they do so only through the media. Local authorities should treat citizens as adults.

There is a serious housing issue for the whole community and it is quite acute in the Traveller community. Most people who I deal with want good sustainable, quality accommodation for all their citizens, including the Traveller community. That is something that one of the witnesses might elaborate on, purpose-built Traveller accommodation versus integrated accommodation in existing settled communities. What does their research show about what the community asks for? I have received many complaints recently of certain members of the Travelling community who have been housed through approved housing bodies in existing estates where they never wanted to be and they cannot settle. They let that be known at the time and the answer is take it or leave it. It is that or nothing. That poses problems then within the estate. The Part 8 process would be of interest to me. I do not know of any in my area that have been refused in 15 or 16 years. I could be wrong, I stand to be corrected. The development plan and local area plans are where to deliver and be very specific about it and identify it. The only development plan I was involved in was the 2005-2011 one. At the time very specific objectives for Traveller accommodation were delineated and noted on the maps in Fingal. It was very clear to people. Then we move through the Part 8 process, and try to deal with issues, some of which might be infrastructural, to try to have a planning gain as well for everyone in the area.

I thank the witnesses for their work. This is a nettle that needs to be grasped. Most of us are in agreement. We are all committed to providing good, sustainable, permanent accommodation, and good homes for the Travelling community. We want that.

Dr. Conor Norton

The Part 8 process comes up again and again in our review of the previous literature and reports in this area and certainly in our consultation with different groups, the executive, elected members and the Travelling community etc. One of the greatest issues there is that we do not have consistent data for Part 8. There is no register we can refer to. Apart from what might actually make it through to the Part 8 process, we cannot monitor projects that start and do not proceed. I hope it does not come across like this. We are not pointing the finger at the local elected representatives. There certainly is a very significant responsibility with the local administration or the executive. We certainly got that from our consultation. Obviously, some of the recommendations we are making would improve the oversight and practice carried out at the executive level to support better local decision-making. That is around proper planning guidance, processes that need to be put in place, consistent approaches to gathering data such as identifying the real demand, best practice in location, sustainable development, and managing services and infrastructure, all of which are points the Deputy mentioned. There are issues, for example, around taking a more place-based approach to Traveller accommodation. Maybe it is part of an area plan and there is betterment for the local community embedded such as infrastructure or a park. There are many positives that could come forward from that. We would like to see better guidance around the processes and a more area-based approach to that.

On oversight, our recommendations focus on two areas in the long term. One is in respect of plan making, and this would be oversight of the executive and of the outputs, such as the adoption of plans etc. That would be the Office of the Planning Regulator and we make recommendations on that in the initial term. The second point is the new agency we are recommending that would have a broader role in monitoring delivery nationwide at some point. We make initial recommendations on governance and what an agency might look like. It is not very detailed and a great deal of work would have to be done on its architecture. Principally in respect of planning, they are the issues.

I will hand over to Professor Norris to answer the question about demand and what Travellers want. There are complexities here. We are recommending that even within the TAP and the development plan we must have a much more sophisticated approach to considering what really is the local demand and how the TAP, the housing strategy and development plan respond to that. There is an added complexity in that we are talking about a Travelling community. It is a bit more dynamic perhaps than a settled community and we have to be able to plan for that.

Professor Michelle Norris

I share Deputy O'Brien's concerns about any diminution of powers of councillors. There is no information kept centrally on failure to initiate Part 8. There is information on Part 8 proceedings that have been initiated but there is no robust central information on the issue of the failure.

That should not be a very difficult thing for local authorities to track and report up the line, or would it be?

Professor Michelle Norris

No it should not be. It is not kept centrally by the Department. Dr. Norton consulted very widely with planners in local government for the report, and they identified this as an issue, which is why it is in the report.

Now that the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR has been established, we believe it has the capacity to play quite an important role in improving the delivery of Traveller accommodation. The problems we identify in the report of Traveller accommodation plans not lining up with what is in development plans and sites not being specified are issues which can be referred to the OPR and the office can go back to local authorities to insist they are addressed, which would improve matters. Where there is non-implementation of measures, the regulator also has the power to recommend to the Minister that enforce implementation, which he is legally empowered to do. That structure has been put in place and we believe it has quite a lot of potential.

Regarding secrecy around the acquisition of sites, the Deputy was previously a councillor, as he mentioned. I have no doubt from his experience he found that is an issue. The acquisition of sites was not an issue that was flagged with us but regarding the development of Traveller-specific accommodation where there has been non-delivery, we examined the potential for penalties, which is one of the issues the committee mentioned to us. We decided against that option on the grounds it would penalise other vulnerable communities with, for example, cuts to social housing budgets for non-delivery of Traveller accommodation, and what is the argument for that? Local authorities are also in large part self-funded through the property tax and there is less of an opportunity to penalise them. Responsibility for the roads budget has been transferred from the Department with responsibility for housing to another Ministry. Rather than penalties, the issue of incentives is one we discussed, although we did not include it in the report, but it would be worth examining. The Deputy mentioned gains for areas that have Traveller-specific accommodation, for example, the water and sewerage infrastructure being augmented, but there are arguments for putting in place improvements such as the provision of playgrounds, which would benefit Travellers getting the accommodation but would also achieve benefits for the local communities in those neighbourhoods. That is something that should be definitely explored.

Many of my questions have been answered but my main concern is funding for Traveller accommodation that is not being used by local authorities. The witnesses have covered that. In my area the figure is 44% but in other local authority areas, it is 20%, 19% and 12%. We need to find a balance. Local authorities play a major role in this area. I work with many members of the Traveller community in my area and Traveller accommodation is a major issue. Looking at the big picture, perhaps workshops may be needed to ensure local authorities, agencies and everybody concerned work together. There can be a lack of information or awareness of issues but information is the key. It would be good if we could all work together because what service delivery is needed. One of the greatest issues in my area is accommodation.

We know that poor living conditions are a major issue for the health of older Travellers in particular. Do we always hear from them? Is there a designated Traveller representative on each of the 31 local authorities, particularly through the SPCs? When one is on the ground listening to people's concerns, that is where one will learn more. That will be important when all the agencies and local authorities work together. My local authority in Carlow made a submission. Its officials are helpful when I engage with the council. There were only 15 submissions from local authorities, which means 16 local authorities did not make a submission. Is that a concern? As was said, the 31 local authorities play a major role. As we move forward, all the agencies need to work together. One of the witnesses might respond to me on these concerns I raised. Traveller accommodation is an important issue and we need to find a balance. If funding is allocated for Traveller accommodation, it needs to be spent.

Deputy Noel Rock resumed the Chair.

Dr. Conor Norton

Funding is a critical issue and we have reported on funding over a number of years. The percentage spend is based on the Traveller accommodation programmes that have been prepared, for example, their estimated cost, etc.. Funding is based on that, and it is a circular process. There are issues with the methodology and identifying need. We are not suggesting, for example, that even the figures presented encompass the sort of demand that there might be. Those figures must be viewed as being indicative but they are very instructive with respect to the inconsistency in expenditure on the basis of Traveller accommodation programmes. It very much highlights issues with inconsistency in delivery. It is important in that regard.

Regarding Travellers' representation on SPCs, the emphasis has always been on LTACCs at local level. Our recommendation on governance is that the Traveller accommodation SPC would bring in the local representative. That governance would bring them closer to the decision-making of local authorities and then there should also be a direct connection to the local authority's own SPC on housing. The existing arrangements were constructed in the late 1990s on foot of the Act in 1998 but there was reform of local government in the early 2000s, which superseded that and created the SPC structure. We recommend a specific local Traveller accommodation SPC.

Professor Michelle Norris

I support the Senator's view on the different agencies working together and on Travellers having a voice in the process. As Dr. Norton mentioned, that was the rationale for the recommendation on having a Traveller SPC. We asked whether Traveller accommodation is a standing item on the housing SPCs for different local authorities. We were informed it is in Dublin, but it varies. We thought that having a formal SPC was a much better process.

We will have a second round of questioning starting with Deputy Eoin Ó Broin.

I want to respond in a constructive way to comments other committee members made. It is important to tease out this stuff but it is also important to acknowledge the Minister and his staff are paying close attention to this committee because implementing this report will be tricky and the Minister will not put himself out on a limb if he does not think he will get support for these measures. Much of our conversation has been about the Part 8 process, section 183 land disposals and the role of the regulator. I am one of the minority Deputies who vigorously opposed the strategic housing development legislation for all the reasons we are discussing here in terms of not wanting powers to be centralised but we must acknowledge a number of basic facts. Page 50 of the report refers to a 35% underspend in Traveller accommodation over the lifetime of projects. What those figures hide is that in recent years the underspend has worsened. There was a 48% underspend last year and that was higher than the underspend the previous year at a time there were finally some increases in budgets for local authorities.

In recent years some local authorities have not spent anything on this. Last year, ten local authorities did not spend a cent on Traveller accommodation, upgrades or new accommodation. A total of 14 substantially underspent their budgets. If we want to send a signal to the Minister that we want to work with him to fix that problem, we will have to take some uncomfortable decisions. I say this with the greatest of respect to Deputies Pat Casey and Darragh O'Brien and Senator Victor Boyhan because I am grappling with the same difficulties and we share views on this. If we do not do something on section 183, Part 8 and the regulator, nothing will change. With respect to the issue of how many Part 8 proposals have been refused, generally our difficulty is we do not even get to the Part 8 process.

We have a Traveller accommodation plan. It is approved by local authorities with statutory responsibilities. In some instances, councillors are responding to pressure from settled constituents. In others, managers do not want to progress the project. There is often collusion between those two elements and the project never gets to a Part 8 application. Large numbers of people in the settled community do not want Traveller-specific accommodation beside them and will do everything that they can to convince elected representatives that if they support the projects, they will not be re-elected. The level of underspending is incredible. Last year and the year before, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government came to us to request additional expenditure for mainstream social housing because it was overspending. That is at a time when we are not spending nearly enough. I wish the Department would ask us to double its budget, which we would happily do.

We cannot say that we want to fix this chronic underspend and yet not at least find some way to do it. If members are uncomfortable with what is here, I accept that. I do not think this is straightforward. We have then to find some other way to do it. I started out not being in favour of taking Part 8 and section 183 powers away. I just cannot work out any other way to fix the problem that the data show. If the expert group tasked with dealing with this says that this is the best way to do it and I do not have an alternative, then I will defer to the wisdom of the people who are tasked to do this. The Minister of State, Deputy English, needs to hear from this committee that whatever he brings forward to tackle this, we will work with him to try to get it through. If we start to get political divisions, this will go nowhere, and we will be sitting here in another year or two with even more underspends.

Members will know that I am not prone to exaggerated language in this committee. A consequence of not fixing this is that people will die. Those of us who know the Traveller accommodation in our communities, who go to see the poor state of electricity connections and foul water sewage connections and who know what happened in Carrickmines have to be serious about this. One of the reasons that those things happened is that allocated budgets were unspent and too small. I appeal to members, if not necessarily to change their minds in the course of this meeting, either to support what is on the table or to come up with something else. We cannot leave the planning and land issues as they are. We can do the other good stuff, such as having ethnic identifiers, giving Traveller families the option of stating preferences, and having a much better evidence base. The crucial thing is to make sure that every single cent that is allocated is spent within the year that it is allocated to improve existing accommodation and to provide good quality new accommodation. This is too important for us to miss.

Senator Boyhan asked an important question. If we temporarily move section 183 and Part 8 powers to the chief executive, that does not address the issue that arises when the executive is reluctant to progress a project. How confident are the witnesses that the powers that they said the planning regulator has been given on foot of a communication from this new State-wide Traveller agency would be enough to force the manager to use those powers? I presume that the logic is that the manager is given these powers to implement the democratically agreed Traveller accommodation programme. If a manager chooses not to do it for whatever reason, this new State-wide Traveller agency can then say it is not acceptable and complain to the regulator. Do the witnesses think that mechanism will work? Will it be fast enough or do we need to think through something else?

I accept the point about choice-based letting. Local authorities with good practice on choice-based letting have a drop-in facility on Mondays and Fridays where people with literacy issues can go in and use choice-based letting. They have portals. Pretty much every elected representative in those constituencies provides that service to people with restricted literacy. As choice-based letting is rolled out for people who are not computer literate and have restricted letting, that should be made available in every local authority. It is a sticking point that caused difficulties at the start in some areas.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin for a very considered contribution. I call Professor Norris.

Professor Michelle Norris

I thank Deputy Ó Broin for the suggestion about choice-based lettings. Choice-based lettings have substantial advantages, especially with regard to the management of vacant dwellings. That is a good suggestion. I do not want to speak for the regulator but we met the regulator and discussed these proposals in much depth before putting them forward. The regulator said to us that he is confident that this mechanism will work. I mentioned that a theme in our analysis is that the 1998 Act was brought in and that various things have happened since then that undermined its implementation. The regulator is an example of the opposite. It is a new facility that was not there when the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998 was introduced. It has a mechanism to review plans and will do so for everybody. We will have that expertise once it is properly staffed. We felt that that was a very logical way to deal with the issues regarding planning for Traveller accommodation in a streamlined way along with any other planning issues that arise. We are confident that the regulator can play that role.

One reason for the amount of material on evidence in the report is that academics love evidence and we felt that it was necessary for planning. The advice of the regulator is that any regulator intervention will be subject to court challenge unless the decisions have been reached on foot of robust evidence. That is one reason evidence is so important.

Dr. Conor Norton

An issue that was raised here this morning was the initiation of projects on foot of the Traveller accommodation programmes, TAP, not just the procedure of consultation and adoption. It is a matter of trying to move projects forward and in line with the TAP. Traveller accommodation programmes are currently in place. As perfect or imperfect as they may be, there is immediately potential to review what is in the TAP and to start to monitor that if it can be provided as a priority to the Office of the Planning Regulator, which has a lot of work to do at present. Ultimately, we are talking about a national agency, which would have a specific role of monitoring plan-making. It would not solely relate to plan-making, but in its interaction with the planning system, it would certainly monitor the plan-making and delivery across the country. When the system is fixed, it would refer appropriate matters to the Office of the Planning Regulator, which has a legislative connection to the Minister, to be able to issue directives.

A new round of Traveller accommodation programmes has been agreed. If legislation was in train, the Minister and Oireachtas should say that local authorities have a choice to do this in the way the legislation originally set out, that they should start to process their plans appropriately through Part 8 applications. If local authorities do not do so, and there is clear evidence that they are not implementing the programmes, then this new State-wide agency will do its job and say to the regulator that because local authorities are not implementing new plans as appropriate, it is requesting that these amended Part 8 and section 183 powers be implemented. If I were a chief executive or a group of councillors in South Dublin County Council looking at these new powers coming down the line, I would say that we might as well do what we agreed to because then nobody will ever propose utilising the executive section 183 or Part 8 powers. That is how it would work in some senses. It is not like we are saying that, tomorrow, all the Part 8 and section 183 powers will be taken off elected members, but that where they are not being used, the regulator would be requested to step in. In those instances, new powers will be available. Am I misunderstanding it?

Dr. Conor Norton

Our recommendation is for immediate emergency powers where Part 8 applications are not getting through. Our second recommendation relates to five-year proposals. While the planning system and policy are fixed, we recommend that the reserved function on the night of decision-making would rest with the chief executive.

We also recommend that an alternative route be available to the board during this period within which we are fixing the planning system, because it is very difficult to highlight performing or non-performing local authorities etc. Sometimes, there is patchy performance but most, if not all, planning provisions apply at a national level and across the board and we are suggesting that for operational reasons, the provisions would apply for this short-term period.

I understand the point being made by Deputy Ó Broin. I do not think this committee has worked very well together. We do not wish to be a stumbling block but we have genuine concerns about removing powers from local authorities. I was a local councillor for 12 years and in that time I was not aware of any Part 8 application being refused. As we do not have the data available, this is not a discussion based on factual information. A problem might arise before an application gets to the stage of a final decision, as Deputy Ó Broin probably pointed out. I am willing to consider all suggestions but I am unclear how the system would work if power was moved towards the centre. To follow up on comments of Deputy Ó Broin and Dr. Norton, would such a move improve the system? How would the process work if decisions are made centrally? How would the nuts and bolts of the system work?

I was involved in a scheme of four houses developed for the Travelling community in Ashford, a relatively rural part of County Wicklow. It was through engagement with the community that we delivered that project in quite a short timeframe. One of the landowners came up with an alternative suggestion regarding the layout and the council swapped some of the land. The process of engagement through local authorities, local authority members and the community is fundamental in how this will succeed. If we move the powers of decision to the centre or the chief executive, what will be the process? What steps will be put in place to get to a decision? The committee is not here to be obstructive but, rather, to find solutions. The powers of local authorities are worthy of genuine consideration.

The sequence in terms of how Traveller accommodation plans fit in with county development plans has been reversed because of the national planning framework. It was the case that plans progressed from local level to country plans, regional plans and national plans. All of a sudden, it is the other way around and everything is being dictated from national level down through regional and county plans to local area plans. The whole thing has been reversed. It is on a statutory footing, which was not previously the case. County plans must follow within 18 months and local plans must follow thereafter. It might be quite easy to fit Traveller accommodation plans into that cycle, although I am not sure where. That is an observation on tying Traveller accommodation plans into local area and county plans.

Professor Michelle Norris

I agree that in an ideal world, decisions regarding the location and delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation would be reached on the basis of consultation and agreement with local communities. The issue is that this has not worked in large parts of the country from the 1960s when the State first got involved in this area. The situation in respect of Traveller accommodation has reached emergency levels. There are approximately 600 families camping on the roadside. The legislation provides eviction powers and, as such, any of those families could be instructed by the Garda to move on within 24 hours. That is a big driver of overcrowding on halting sites, which we flag in the report. None of the overcrowding on halting sites is authorised by local authorities, which devote much time to policing it. Families simply have nowhere else to go. They face their caravan, their only asset in life, being impounded by the Garda.

The data indicate that the situation in respect of Traveller homelessness is not superb. It is a serious issue for Traveller families with children. There are slightly more than 500 Travellers in homeless accommodation in the Dublin region. They make up 19% of the homeless population in Dublin even though Travellers make up less than 1% of the national population. It is an emergency situation which is getting worse. As such, we believe an emergency intervention is necessary, namely, the suspension of Part 8 applications. We make that proposal not because it is an ideal solution but, rather, because the situation in respect of Traveller accommodation is at such an emergency level that this intervention is warranted.

On how we envisage it would operate, the sequence of events is set out in section 6.3 of the report. We recommend that the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee be strengthened. It is currently an advisory committee. A general theme in the provision of Traveller accommodation is that there are many advisory bodies doing much good work and coming up with recommendations but those recommendations are not implemented. We recommend that the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee be strengthened, properly staffed and given responsibility for active monitoring of the planning and provision of Traveller accommodation. That should include making the data more robust. For instance, the compilation of data on failure to initiate Part 8 proceedings would be a big help. Part of its role would involve monitoring local Traveller accommodation plans. Those would still be put together by local authorities with input from elected members and local authorities. It would also monitor the translation of local Traveller accommodation plans into local development plans. We have recommended that the timeframe for the various planning stages be changed such that they occur concurrently. Development plans currently happen over a different timeframe from Traveller accommodation plans etc., which creates problems that undermine implementation.

Crucially, we suggest the new authority would have powers in circumstances where it is of the opinion that a Traveller accommodation plan has not been translated properly into the development plan. For instance, if sites for accommodation had not been specified, the authority would have the power to go to the Office of the Planning Regulator, which could intervene and require that to be addressed in the plan. That is one particular blockage. Elected members would still have a role in making these decisions but there would be the possibility for intervention at central level in cases of inadequate planning. The authority would also monitor the implementation of plans locally. Where there was non-implementation of plans, it could go to the regulator, which has the legal powers to review that and recommend to the Minister that he or she enforce implementation. It would be a process where there is a body driving implementation. It is not just about making plans and consulting. Where there is no implementation, adequate intervention may address many of the problems.

For clarity, there would still be a Part 8 process and an opportunity for elected members and the public to be consulted. The only change proposed is for the decision on a Part 8 application to be an executive decision.

Professor Michelle Norris

That is correct.

Apart from that crucial change, the process will remain the same.

Professor Michelle Norris

I referred to some efforts to use emergency powers having failed. In each of those cases, the failure was on the basis of a court deciding there had not been adequate consultation.

The consultation would still have to take place. It is just that the decision on the initiation would rest with the manager.

I ask Deputy Casey to make his last intervention and then allow Professor Norris to finish her point, to which we can come back.

It is a technical point which we are teasing out here, or of which we are gaining a better understanding. We are removing responsibility for the final Part 8 decision from the local authorities.

We are not removing it but transferring it from the elected members to the executive.

That is a significant change.

It is a very significant change.

It is, but we do not know that that is where the problem is. We do not have the data to show that is the case. It has been mentioned clearly by Deputy Ó Broin and me that the problem actually lies elsewhere. I am gaining a better understanding of the Office of the Planning Regulator, the local area plans and the tying in to plans. I can understand it better now than I did this morning.

This is an important point and we are engaging in important dialogue. With his significant experience in local authorities, the Deputy will know as well as I do that a manager is not going to bring forward a Part 8 application if he or she knows a majority of the elected members will not support it. That is the way Part 8 provisions work. In many local authorities managers often decided to move a social housing project from under Part 8 to a standard planning application by an approved housing body either because privately elected members had asked for it in order that they would not have to take a difficult decision or to prevent them from blocking it.

The Deputy is absolutely right that there is no research-based evidence to indicate the number. Those of us who have been around for a long time and spoken to councillors in many local authorities know that part of the difficulty is that one cannot even get into the Part 8 process because the manager knows that good councillors under pressure from the electorate will feel under pressure to vote against a proposal, or other councillors who in my view are bad because they are taking the wrong decisions will also vote against it.

While there will still be a consultation role, a manager will be allowed to proceed, irrespective of a democratic vote. I do not believe that is good and I am with the panel on the issue. If, however, we do not remove the blockage-----

That is not where the blockage is. It is one of the blockages. In my 12 years as a councillor no Part 8 application put in front of us was ever refused.

But there were Part 8 proposals that were never put in front of the Deputy because management knew that they would not succeed.

What we are talking about is removing the power of local authority members to make the final decision and giving it to the executive, but we do not have data to show that the problem lies with the members. We have anecdotal information that the blockage is somewhere between the point in question and where the consultation started and that it is not associated with the vote of the local authority members. It is in the process before then.

Both Deputies making a somewhat similar point but at cross purposes. Deputy Ó Broin is saying a Part 8 proposal will not be put before the council if the manager believes there will not be a vote in favour. Deputy Casey is saying elected members never reject, or rarely reject, a Part 8 application when it is put in front of them. They are two sides of the same coin.

We are all trying to get to the same point.

The Deputy is saying there are no data to prove Deputy Ó Broin's assertion is correct. It is probably correct that there are no data to prove it. I hope that is a neat summary.

In my first contribution I spoke about the lack of will of the administration to deal with this problem. That is a fundamental part of it. How does the proposal deal with the lack of will of the administrations of local authorities to get a Part 8 application to a final vote? That is where the Office of the Planning Regulator intervenes.

Professor Michelle Norris

On the lack of evidence, it is what we call non-decision-making.

By people who are paid more than councillors.

Professor Michelle Norris

By somebody. By definition, it is very hard to ferret out the cause of non-decision-making. The planners, with whom we consulted widely, indicated that the failure to decide to initiate Part 8 proceedings was a problem. The issue was also raised in many of the submissions we received, particularly from Traveller groups but also from local authorities. It was mentioned that we had received 16 written submissions from local authorities. We actually met many more local authorities than that number. We also met social workers for Travellers and the County and City Management Association. Some local authorities flagged an unwillingness to initiate Part 8 proceedings as a particular problem. The job of a chief executive of a local authority is not easy. Much of it involves deal-making with councillors on issues on which support will be obtained. The make-up of councils varies based on the level of representation political parties and whether there is a majority. Therefore, the challenges are not insignificant.

On the failure of the executive to do the job, about which Deputy Casey asked specifically, proper and robust monitoring by the local authority and a complaint to the planning regulator will help to identify where there has been a failure to provide enough Traveller accommodation to meet the needs of the population in the area in question and a failure to specify where the sites are. That issue will be dealt with. Where there is a failure to initiate enough developments on foot of planning applications, it will be dealt with in another complaint to the planning regulator. Therefore, the non-decision-making aspect will be addressed. The suspension of the Part 8 powers of elected members and their transfer to the chief executives really mean that the chief executives will have no opportunity not to act. That was the rationale behind the decision.

I can accept the rationale behind it and have no problem with it, but it just looks like we have added another layer of bureaucracy to the process and that we are trying to deal with an emergency. We still have to get to the final Part 8 proceedings, but they will be undertaken by the manager. That is where the blockage is.

Professor Michelle Norris

Yes, but there is now a system in place to deal with it.

Dr. Conor Norton

We have stated before that there is no national register on which we can draw. One of the main issues is not quantitative but qualitative. We need to engage in some research. One of our recommendations is that there be more research in this area to determine the reasons. We obviously have evidence of under-expenditure, but we need to bore down into it to really find out why and it will not be that simple. There could be very good reasons for under-expenditure, but there are great inconsistencies associated with delivery and under-expenditure. The point we are making is that this is very much a short-term measure. We suggest a period of five years. If it were possible to foreshorten that period, it would be ideal. We envisage circumstances in which the local powers would be restored in the context of very robust guidance, procedures and practices associated with planning Traveller accommodation in order that there would be very consistent approaches to gathering evidence, preparing policies, identifying land and planning and design. It is a matter of having a robust planning system that is able to deal with plan-making and decision-taking related to the provision of Traveller accommodation. We have to get to that point. What we are suggesting is that temporary measures be put in place. We are suggesting a period of five years, based on our knowledge of what we regard as an outside timeline for acting on these measures, but if it could be done in a shorter timeline, that would also be ideal.

Do members have further questions or contributions?

We could be here all day.

We could as it is a compelling topic and it has been a compelling discussion. We will have the Minister here to address the matter on 5 December when we will continue our deliberations. I thank all of the delegates for attending. It has been a very interesting and compelling discussion.

Professor Michelle Norris

I thank the Chairman for inviting us. I thank all members for the care they took in reading and considering the recommendations made.

I thank Professor Norris. I need to get a new copy of the recommendations as Senator Hackett has my copy.

The joint committee adjourned at 12 noon until 9.30 a.m. on Thursday, 21 November 2019.