Amendment Nos. 1, 2 and 20 are related and may be discussed together.
Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Bill, 1998: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, lines 23 to 26, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following new subsection:
"(3) The collective citation ‘the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 to 1998' shall include sections 25 and 26, and the Local Government (Planning and Development) Acts, 1963 to 1998 shall be construed together as one Act.".
This is a technical amendment designed to upgrade the references in the Bill to take into account the passing of the recent Local Government (Planning and Development) Act.
Amendment No. 2 is necessary as the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1998, was enacted on 16 April 1998, following the publication of this Bill on 31 March 1998. The Act provides for the various planning Acts enacted between 1963 and 1998 to be construed as one Act. Amendment No. 1 is now unnecessary and amendment No. 20, a consequential amendment, is accepted.
Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 7, subsection (1), lines 14 and 15, to delete paragraph (a) and substitute the following new paragraph:
"(a) in the case of an administrative county, the council of the county,".
At present the Bill states that the county council is the relevant housing authority for what is termed in the Bill as "every county health district", rather than the usual phrase of "every administrative county". It is unclear why it should be phrased in this manner.
Amendment No. 4 was discussed on Second Stage and the Minister responded to my query as to why only two urban districts were designated as relevant housing authorities for the purposes of this Bill. I listened carefully to the Minister of State but there is a case for giving a stronger role to urban authorities. Since the debate on Second Stage I have discussed this matter with members of various urban councils who are delegates to the AMAI and there is concern that without proper regard for their role the greater burden might fall on urban districts within a county rather than ensuring that the task is shared.
It would be preferable to consider some of the larger urban councils at least. There is a precedent in a number of departmental practices for distinguishing between larger urban districts other than Bray and Dundalk. For example, where the population of an urban district is 10,000 or more there would be merit in a stronger role for the urban authority in the development of the plans. My amendment reflects the concerns of urban councillors.
The effect of amendments Nos. 3 and 4 is to designate all urban district councils as relevant housing authorities. The Bill provides that relevant housing authorities will be required to prepare, adopt and secure the implementation of local traveller accommodation programmes. This is a significant task which is more appropriately discharged by the larger authorities. It is also desirable to avoid having a large number of local programmes, in particular a multiplicity of programmes within a county. Some counties have a number of UDCs.
Under the Bill there will be 41 relevant housing authorities but this would rise to 88 if all UDCs were designated as relevant housing authorities. However, there is provision under section 5(2) for the assignment of functions of the relevant housing authority to other housing authorities — UDCs — on an individual or group basis with a specified population threshold should this be warranted in the future. This approach is also in line with the provisions of section 23 of the 1992 Act. That section allows the Minister to transfer responsibility for housing functions between different housing authorities.
Urban district councils which are not relevant housing authorities will have a number of opportunities to contribute to the preparation of the relevant local traveller accommodation programmes. They will be consulted under section 6 about the assessment of accommodation needs. They will be given prior notice under section 8(b) of the preparation of a draft accommodation programme or an amendment to or replacement of it. Under section 9, UDCs must be supplied with a copy of the draft, thereby ensuring an opportunity to express their views.
The county council as the relevant housing authority responsible for the programme will have a general responsibility for securing implementation of the programme. The UDCs will retain control to the extent that a programme includes measures which will fall to be implemented by the UDC in the urban area. It must be remembered that a specific proposal for housing accommodation being pursued by another housing authority in the urban area requires full planning permission from the urban council. It will seen, therefore, that such councils will retain control over matters in so far as their functional area is concerned, without the commitment of the resources required at the initial stages.
I welcome the clarification from the Minister of State, in particular his reference to section 5(2). In the implementation of the legislation I ask him to retain an open mind with regard to requests from larger UDCs, particularly where there is agreement between them and the relevant county councils. With regard to amendment No. 3, will the Minister of State clarify the reference to county health districts?
I support the sentiments expressed by Senator Gallagher. In my area there is a close working relationship between the county council and the urban councils. Kilkenny County Council is considering the provision of accommodation on the county border adjacent to New Ross, County Wexford. In such a situation there should be a requirement for consultation, at least, between the councils involved on the proposals for and the operation of travellers' facilities. It is important to address this matter to avoid a county council foisting a problem on a UDC in an adjoining county, which might lead to hostility and opposition to what the Bill seeks to achieve.
I support the suggestion that where a UDC seeks to be designated under the legislation and to take on the task of drawing up the development plan, favourable consideration will be given to that application. I am not sure how many UDCs will want to do so and I am inclined to agree with the Senator that it is the larger ones which might be interested. The provision is in the Bill and if a request were submitted it would be the intention of this Minister and, I am sure, future Ministers to accede to such a request.
It is not desirable that this might become a matter for conflict with a Minister responsible for the implementation of a national policy to provide adequate traveller accommodation. It does not make sense that there should be haggling over whether it should be the county council which prepares a plan for a large UDC or whether the UDC should be allowed to undertake the task if it so wishes. We are seeking to achieve the greatest level of co-operation possible in the implementation of the policy objectives of successive Governments to provide adequate accommodation for the travelling community.
I am advised that the county health district and the county council area are the same in law and that is why there must be a reference to it. Given the existence of regional health boards, Members may find the reference to the county health districts strange. Those who are in this business as long as I have been may have been members of health authorities which were confined to the county boundaries.
Assessing the needs of travellers and the number of sites required in an area is a difficult matter. At certain times there can be huge influxes of travellers into south Dublin from the east coast and it can be difficult to accommodate them. How does the Minister of State see us assessing the needs of travellers? We have tried to do so many times but seem to be unsuccessful.
This interesting point is one with which all Members will be familiar. The assessment is carried out in March, which is probably before the spring urge to travel hits the travelling community, and it may be as good a time as any to undertake such an assessment. Local authorities have been active in providing facilities and have attracted families to their areas in the expectation of benefiting from a proactive council. Accordingly, families are drawn to those areas and other counties do not carry out their responsibilities.
We intend carrying out a nationwide assessment. When this Bill passes, all local authorities will carry the statutory responsibility to prepare their plans in order to implement the Bill in every local authority housing area. Local authorities which are not carrying out their responsibilities will not then benefit from the actions of more active areas.
One can never get an absolutely accurate assessment. Happily, the traveller population is increasing as their lifespans lengthen. They enjoy better health now than their grandparents did, and we must recognise that although much work has been done in providing them with facilities, earlier assessments have been far exceeded and there are many people on the side of the road with nowhere to live. Hopefully that is due to longer lifespans and to the fact that many families are coming home. The travelling community travels, and it is difficult to get an accurate assessment of a section of the community which has the urge to move around. However, March is a period just before the urge to travel hits the travelling community, and an assessment in that month is as accurate as we can hope for.
County managers have frequently passed the buck on this issue and I hope this legislation is tight enough to compel them to consult each other. If we prepare in March, we cannot be absolutely certain of the needs of travellers in June or July and the county manager plays a big role in this area.
There are city managers involved as well.
There are, but Senator Doyle's city manager is further away from the problem and gets away with murder.
Determining the needs of travellers has cropped up in my area. Many of them are obviously needy and require accommodation. However, some of those housed subsequently proved themselves capable of providing accommodation from their own resources. We have had instances of people with Jeeps worth £25,000 or £30,000 being housed. It would be reasonable, though not definite, to assume that a traveller with a new Jeep is not using a credit facility but has paid up front. This brings the effort to house travellers into some disrepute. Will the Minister of State consider drafting some criterion that allows local authorities greater powers of investigation in such cases?
We are discussing families which do not have a regular abode and which reside in temporary accommodation, usually caravans, that is located haphazardly and not in official halting sites or other areas where they may legally park. We are not referring to people who trade successfully all over the country and who have substantial houses as their bases. Such people would not be included in the needs assessments of travellers undertaken by local authorities. Their housing needs do not exist because they already own houses. What they do with their houses is their own business, but they would not become the responsibility of the local authority.
Illegal parking can be dealt with by different Acts, but we are dealing here with homeless people who have no official place to park their caravans — the tents are practically all gone. The Government aims to provide accommodation to meet the needs of such people.
I would not claim that my local authority area, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, is perfect but it has embarked on an assessment procedure. It may be problematic for transient families but it is possible to identify people's needs. We had 54 families in very dire circumstances, and nobody can be proud of that, but their needs have been identified and we are doing something about it. The difficulty with this issue seems to be a reluctance to deal with the problem rather than the assessment issue.
There are two types of accommodation being provided. The first is the halting site or local authority housing. The second relates to the provisions for transient travellers, which I may not have covered earlier. This Bill provides for transient facilities to be made available to travellers. They will have somewhere to park legally and to which they can be directed.
This section refers to the five year programme, which must tie in to the development plan. Is it possible to include a section in our draft development plans which would enable a portion of any rezoned land to be assigned to a group housing scheme or halting site? Somebody buying a house in an area would then know that a group housing scheme or halting site is to be provided there. Is it unconstitutional to state in our accommodation programme that the draft development plan must provide that developers might have to facilitate a halting site on their land as a condition of rezoning?
We are placing responsibility on the local authorities to draw up a five year accommodation programme to meet the anticipated needs of the traveller community. Implementing the Senator's suggestion would create an extraordinary situation whereby sites would be designated all around the country because the land was being rezoned, but such sites might not necessarily relate to the accommodation plan which the local authorities were charged to lay down. I do not see how that would contribute to achieving our objective. We must keep our sights firmly on that objective.
If all local authorities were to fulfil their responsibilities under this Bill the required number of sites would be designated, as would be shown subsequently in the development plan. The Senator's suggestion is not practical and would cause unfocused designation which could result in the designation of an excessive number of sites.
There was a possibility of putting a site on land belonging to a developer in Kimmage. The dispute lasted for three and four years and ended up in the High Court. If we earmark a site on land belonging to a developer as part of our five year accommodation plan can that developer bring us to the High Court? Can we only earmark land which belongs to the council?
Section 25 provides for the inclusion of appropriate objectives in a development plan to enable the implementation of the accommodation programme for travellers. It is up to the local authorities to designate where this accommodation should be placed. It does not necessarily have to be on land already owned by the local authority. I have practical experience of land which was zoned for traveller accommodation but which was not publicly owned.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 9, subsection (1), lines 19 and 20, after "authority" to insert "and place a copy of such notice in each public library within the functional area of that relevant housing authority for a period of 1 month from the date of publication of the notice".
Section 9 requires a local authority to publish a notice in not less than one newspaper circulated within a functional area. My amendment proposes that, in addition to publishing the notice in a local newspaper, it should also be on display in a public library in the local authority area for not less than one month after it appears in the newspaper. Before the change in the planning laws people would say they had not seen the notice in the newspapers. That problem was resolved by the requirement to provide site notices. Placing the notice on display in a library would resolve the problem of people not seeing the notice in the newspaper or losing their copy of the newspaper. We must inform the public about what we are doing.
I support this simple amendment, which is in the spirit of the age of transparency and which I hope the Minister will accept. People do not have time to read all the newspapers — somebody said recently we will soon drown in the amount of post and newspapers we now receive. Placing a notice in the public library would be an effective way of informing people, particularly given how well the library system is organised.
I support that idea, but some areas do not have a public library. I suggest the amendment should include the words "or any other public venue" so that the message would get across to people in areas without a library. I do not mind how we do it but it is essential to inform the public at the very initial stages. That has been the problem up to now.
A notice could be placed in many places, such as a motor taxation office or council offices but it should be left to the discretion of the local authorities. The statutory minimum is that a notice should be placed in a local newspaper but the local authorities have discretion to give full public notice. A public library might be used by only a very small section of people in the area and there is no library within 30 miles of some areas. Therefore, placing a notice in a public library does not give global coverage either.
It would be wise for the local authorities to place notices in as many public places and media as they can. The minimum statutory provision of one newspaper has been included in legislation up to now. If an authority were to implement an accommodation programme it would have to give planning notice. This provision refers only to notification of the fact that the council is about to prepare a draft accommodation programme which the public can examine.
There is a statutory obligation to place a notice in a newspaper but there is no statutory obligation on the local authority to place a notice anywhere else, although it might do so out of goodwill. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the suggestion of a public library, will he accept the newspaper notice should specify that the notice will be on display in the city hall or civic offices? That is all I am asking for.
I am anxious to be reasonable in regard to this matter. I am also anxious to ensure as many members of the public as possible are informed about the plan and participate in the consultation process. I am open to the suggestion made by Senator Doyle. The Minister has discretion in regard to giving directions on the form of the notice. I am happy to re-examine the issue but I do not think libraries are appropriate places.
That is fine. Will the Minister consider the issue for Report Stage?
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 9, subsection (1), line 28, after "submissions" to insert "(other than submissions of a frivolous or vexatious nature)".
This amendment relates to a concern I expressed on Second Stage. There is so much provision for consultation that I fear certain individuals or groups, many of whom would have a lot on money behind them, would use the provisions of the Bill for extensive consultation in a frivolous or vexatious manner to frustrate the provision of traveller accommodation programmes. There is provision in the Bill for consultation on these programmes. There is also consultation in respect of any changes to the programmes. Planning legislation already provides for extensive consultation on the adoption or amendment of a development plan by a council. I have no doubt that some individuals or groups will try to exploit these provisions with a view to holding up the provision of accommodation.
Some cases in which managers or councils have tried to draw up and implement programmes have ended up in court. Some people did not even have to go to court, they simply managed to have a word with the right person in the right place at the right time to ensure that a proposal for accommodation was stopped. This may not be the best way of achieving my objective but I am seeking to make it clear that frivolous or vexatious submissions need not be considered in detail by an authority as they may delay the provision of accommodation for travellers.
I object to this amendment. What may seem frivolous or vexatious to me might not seem so to the person making the submission. People are entitled to have their submissions assessed and decided upon. It depends on interpretation, so I cannot go along with this amendment. Submissions should go through the process. Anyone should be able to make submissions and we cannot define what is frivolous or vexatious.
Section 11 already makes adequate provision for dealing with frivolous or vexatious submissions. Under that section it is open to the manager to identify submissions which could be regarded as vexatious when preparing the report on submissions received. I presume that the intention of this amendment is to reduce the volume of such submissions. The inclusion of such a qualification is unlikely to have such an effect. In fact, it would imply that a manager must make a formal decision on each submission as to whether it is vexatious or not. This in turn may give rise to a higher level of court challenges. The planning Acts already give powers to An Bord Pleanála to deem an appeal unworthy of consideration if it regards it as frivolous or vexatious. How many times do we see An Bord Pleanála making that decision? It is fraught with the possibility of legal challenges. This matter is covered by section 11. Managers are usually good, solid common sense people who have to look at every submission which goes before the councillors who will make the decision one way or the other.
I would ask the Minister to pay close attention to the implementation of this area of the legislation when enacted. I have no doubt that certain groups with access to resources will seek the best legal and planning advice and try to use the provisions to block the provision of accommodation. In the first instance it will be up to members of the councils, and managers in particular, to try to ensure that this is not the case.
When the Ethics in Public Office Act was being passed by the previous Dáil and Seanad it was a concern of Members that frivolous or vexatious claims or assertions made against Members of the Houses should be dealt with in a particular manner. The amendments accepted to that legislation resulted in a situation where people would almost be afraid to make a claim or assertion in case they would be levied with a penalty. I do not accept that one cannot decide in law against accepting frivolous or vexatious assertions. The consultation provisions are welcome but we will have to keep a close eye on this area to ensure that people do not use the proper provisions of the Bill with the sole and expressed intention of holding up the provision of accommodation for travellers.
Anyone familiar with the history of measures taken over the past 30 years to provide accommodation for travellers knows that there will always be those opposed to such proposals and who wish to slow down progress in this area. There are those who would not only be prepared to make frivolous or vexatious submissions to a council preparing an accommodation programme, they would also be happy to spend a lot of money fighting such proposals in the courts. We are not approaching this matter in a naive state of mind. We are conscious of this problem and the legislation is based on extensive consultations at all levels, including cross-party consultation. It is an attempt to chart a new course where, hopefully, greater progress can be made in providing accommodation for those condemned to live in deplorable conditions which none of us would condone. The Government is seeking to fulfil its responsibility in meeting the needs of these people as quickly as possible. That is what this Bill is about but we are aware that there will be those quite willing to oppose the measures with all the resources available to them.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 9, subsection (1), line 44, after "date" to insert "in 1998".
This amendment seeks to provide that the first accommodation programmes under the legislation should be published this year. The legislation will not be held up in either House and it should be possible for it to be enacted quite soon. To avoid a situation where councils would seek to postpone any proper consideration of traveller accommodation programmes until next year or beyond, it would be desirable to include the provision that the first programmes under the legislation should be published this year.
I would be happy to accept this amendment if it was practical. Even if the Bill was enacted today it would not be possible to comply with all the statutory, consultative and other procedures involved in the preparation and adoption of the first five-year programmes by the end of 1998. On Second Stage I stated that at least 12 months would be required. It may not be appropriate to specify that the first programmes should begin in 1998 as programmes are unlikely to be adopted before the autumn of 1999.
If the provisions are such that it will take until next year to have effect, what measures is the Department taking to ensure that councils do not use this as a reason for delaying the meeting of existing needs until the end of 1999?
When the Bill is passed I will set an appropriate date which will give them sufficient time to prepare their plans. With all the preparatory work which has to be done after the Bill is passed, which includes drawing up guidelines in some cases, the best estimate which can be made at this stage is that it would be the autumn of 1999 before it could be expected that all authorities would have adopted their plans.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 9, subsection (1), line 46, to delete "such period and" and substitute "each succeeding 5 year period and shall".
The first accommodation programme to be prepared by a relevant housing authority under this legislation is for a five year period beginning on a date specified by the Minister. He may then direct that further plans be adopted on a date specified by him. It is preferable that there should also be a clear five year period for the adoption of subsequent plans. When local authority members and staff, the communities in which accommodation will be provided and travellers in those areas become familiar with operating this legislation, it would be useful if the five year cycle was repeated in respect of subsequent plans. That is the case in respect of development plans and people have become accustomed to the fact that they are supposed to be reviewed every five years, although in many cases they are not. It is preferable that it be legislated for that each plan would have a five year duration rather than the Minister fixing the duration of each following the adoption of the first set of plans. It would lead to the smoother operation of these provisions if a five year programme were adopted on an ongoing basis.
The effect of the proposed amendment is to tie subsequent programmes to five year periods. I am not convinced that this is a desirable step at this stage. In future, programmes of a greater or lesser duration may be deemed to be more appropriate having regard to the nature of the outstanding problems. I am in favour of retaining the flexibility inherent in the provisions of section 10(1) to specify any period for subsequent programmes so that decisions on the appropriate period may be taken in light of the prevailing circumstances. I have already heard of cases where reviews of housing needs in a local authority area were carried out within a specified period. I have heard criticism in the other House that the period is too long, that circumstances change so rapidly that the figures with which we work are out of date and that, as a result, we should not have to wait for a fixed period to carry out the next assessment. It may not be the wisest thing to tie ourselves down at this stage in legislation. Under the provisions of the Bill it can be five years or it can be a longer or shorter period. It is left to the wise judgment and discretion of the Minister as to the best thing to do.
I accept circumstances may arise where it would desirable to adopt subsequent plans for shorter periods, particularly if the provisions were having the desired effect in the medium term. However, it would be unwise for plans to go beyond five years. Those who deal with development plans in local authorities believe that the manner in which such plans are let slip beyond the five year period, where councils apply to the Minister for further extensions of time, does not lead to good planning law. There has been criticism that the less than high regard in which some development plans are held in some areas is because they have been let slip considerably beyond the five year period. One of the local authorities of which I am a member adopted a development plan last week. It adopted the previous one in 1985. That is not good practice and I would be reluctant to see the period for subsequent plans go beyond five years. Will the Minister consider setting five years as a maximum period for subsequent plans?
I have sympathise with Senator Gallagher about development plans exceeding the normal time limit for review. Perhaps the Minister could examine a wording along the lines of "not exceeding 5 years". While it is important discretion be maintained because it may be prudent that there be a shorter period than five years, a maximum period of five years could nonetheless be applied.
I have no difficulty with that and the case quoted of development plans not being reviewed every five years as laid down in statute is a disgraceful practice. Councils which have not fulfilled their duty in that regard have been guilty of mismanagement and disservice to their areas. If these things are planned in time, they can be achieved.
I would not like the Senator to have the impression that there might be a similar recurrence with the accommodation programmes and that they might not be reviewed after a period of five years. I am happy to consider inserting a requirement that plans be reviewed after five years. However, I am also anxious to ensure that, regardless of the time span, it would be the same for every local authority in the country and that there would be no stepping stones as there were with the development plans. This would mean everyone being required to complete reviews of the programmes and introduce new ones at the same time. I will examine that for Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, subsection (4), line 5, after "changes" to insert "(if any)".
I seek clarification. I am trying to make it expressly clear in respect of the consideration by a housing authority of submissions it receives that it need not make any change to its programme after it receives those submissions. That is a hypothetical situation which might never arise in practice. However, I am attempting to close down as many opportunities as possible for the exploitation of loopholes at a later date. I welcome the Minister's views on this.
The amendment is unnecessary. The power to make changes under section 4 is discretionary, that is, as the relevant housing authority considers appropriate. It may make changes but it does not have to, so it is unnecessary to insert the words "if any". The option to make no change is clearly implied.
I thank the Minister for clarifying that.
Paragraph 10(2)(d) reads:
(2) In preparing an accommodation programme, or a replacement of it, the relevant housing authority shall—
(d) specify the strategy of the relevant housing authority concerned for securing the implementation of the accommodation programme,
This might not be the most appropriate place in which to insert it but I suggest an addendum which would include the provision of adequate social workers and caretakers for halting sites and traveller housing schemes. I have always believed that while there is often a desire in the Department and at official level in county councils to provide accommodation and integrate travellers into the community, the resources are not being provided and that leads to many problems. Most people are reasonable but, if difficulties arise in a community, those are amplified by people who agitate against the accommodation of travellers in their area which results in others following their lead.
I could give instances of the types of problems which have arisen in my local authority. I do not blame the travellers because they have lived in bad accommodation on the side of the road, in tents in the past and in inadequate caravans and are not used to living in settled accommodation. I have received complaints from people who have seen cattle accommodated in sitting rooms and horses brought into kitchens to drink water. Stairs have been removed and used for firewood. Subsequently, the local authority is put to considerable expense. My local authority has had to pay £16,000 to £20,000 to repair houses when travellers have vacated them.
Many of those problems and social difficulties which arise could be avoided. The integration process could be addressed if sufficient social workers were provided. In Wexford, we have looked for a social worker in each electoral area for a number of years and eventually the number was increased from one to two. Councillors and senior officials believe the number is totally inadequate to deal with the scale of the problems which arise. If we are to accelerate the accommodation programme, which I support, the need for people to help in the integration process will become more important. This may or may not be the appropriate place to include such a provision, but failure to provide a backup service will militate against the success of what we are trying to do.
I agree with Senator Walsh on this aspect and I do not know if this is the appropriate place to talk about it. I speak from experience of a small halting site with five families in the Firhouse-Knocklyon area. We started on the right basis in that we got everybody involved. Social workers visited the site and I visited every two to three weeks so I got to know the people concerned. I brought in St. Vincent de Paul, the various other social bodies, the teacher associations and established a link with the primary schools. Not only are there insufficient social workers, but there are not enough council officials. We do not have the personnel to visit these sites, establish needs and what is involved. We need to nurse these sites step by step as integration is further down the road. If we have the resources from the start and reassure the public they are available, we will make a breakthrough. If we say a halting site or group housing scheme will be located in an area and that resources are available but we cannot detail what will happen at any given time, we will not succeed. We must get this aspect right from the start.
I support what my two colleagues said. I am sorry I did not mention it on Second Stage, although I intended to. For some years we in Dublin city have been refurbishing our flat complexes. When we went back four or five years later, they were in the same state so we are placing the emphasis on estate management, which is the key and is working well. We have trained personnel in each housing estate. If we are to have traveller settlements, they must be managed in the same way. We must have the staff and finances to look after them. If we do so, we will prove to the public that the system is workable and effective.
I support comments made by previous speakers. I raised this matter on Second Stage and said it was not a case of acting in a mechanistic fashion by passing laws, telling councils they must enact them and that money is available. I pointed out that the human resources in local authorities would have to be improved, not only in terms of numbers, but that appropriate skills and training would have to be provided for the accommodation programmes to be drawn up and implemented in the way we desire.
Those of us on local authorities will know housing staff are already overburdened. If they are to be expected to engage in the level of consultation and preparation involved here along with their ordinary duties, they will find it difficult. I also suggested new skills were needed in respect of getting involved in the process of consultation, facilitating people in putting their views forward and in having them considered. It is not a matter of putting a notice in the paper and hoping for a response. We must actively engage in the process and facilitate it.
I contemplated putting down an amendment to this effect but I was advised, rightly or wrongly, that it would impose a charge on the Exchequer and that it would be ruled out of order in this House. However, we are getting the chance to discuss the issue and perhaps it is one to which the Minister will respond and address in the other House by way of an amendment.
I note in the explanatory memorandum a reference to the direct Exchequer costs arising from the Bill. It specifies that local authorities will incur limited but unquantifiable extra staff costs in the preparation programmes and consultation with travellers, etc. To get programmes to work, there needs to be effective consultation. The county councils need not only housing officers but specific traveller liaison officers, if one could use that terminology. Staff in local authorities, who are already extremely busy in the housing area, need the required skills. Unfortunately, it is true to say specific skills are needed in liaising with the traveller groups, given the different culture, different expectations and so on. This is a skill which cannot be expected of people and it is one they must learn. It means somebody must be appointed to working with the travelling community and the consultative groups. Unfortunately, this will cost money. Will the Minister give us his views on this matter and the resources which might be made available in this regard?
We are dealing with a deprived section of our society, the traveller community. Travellers are deprived not only in the area of housing and accommodation needs but also in many other areas, including poor health and poor educational facilities. The denial of an opportunity to lead a better life is understating the problem. Their difficulties will not be resolved merely by the provision of accommodation. This Bill and my responsibility is to deal with the accommodation needs of travellers. They have many other needs which affect programmes in the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Education and Science and nearly all Departments. I accept that adequate resources must be provided to make this aspect of the traveller policy work.
Section 28 provides for a housing authority to make available improved, managed and controlled sites for travellers and to carry out such works incidental to the management and maintenance of sites provided. The proper management and maintenance of schemes is important, apart from the maintenance of the quality of life for the residents. There is also a recognition of the importance of high standards in this area to facilitate the acceleration of the programme of providing further accommodation, including residential caravan parks. Poorly maintained sites, particularly older sites, are readily pointed to as an indication of the inability of local authorities to manage such sites and are the basis for much of the opposition to new sites, as we well know.
The Department has been working to improve the management and maintenance of traveller specific accommodation. With effect from 1 January 1997, the Department recoups a percentage of eligible management and maintenance costs of halting sites, which includes caretaking, routine maintenance, skip hire and caretaking costs which are associated with group housing schemes as well. Part of the funding under the scheme focuses on pilot initiatives for improving the management of traveller accommodation through partnership arrangements between travellers and local authorities. A scheme of grant assistance is available to local authorities to implement this programme.
Regarding social workers, local authorities will incur limited but unquantifiable extra staff costs in the preparation of programmes, consultation with travellers, etc. Some local authorities, including Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Kerry County Council, have reassigned officials to work full time in this area. The Dublin local authorities have staff working full time on traveller accommodation issues; many social workers are employed by local authorities to deal with these issues. Social workers will have an important role to play in implementing the provisions of the Bill with regard to assessment of accommodation needs, implementation of the accommodation programme and consultation with travellers. In many cases, they will deal with travellers on a day to day basis.
A system for the recoupment of the salary and expenses of social workers employed by local authorities to work on the accommodation needs of travellers has been in operation since the early 1970s. There have been certain modifications to the general scheme applied over the intervening years. At present the level of recoupment stands at 90 per cent of salary and expenses; the latter, in the main, relates to travelling and subsistence. It also includes course attendance, seminars and miscellaneous expenses relevant to the employment of the social worker on his or her duties pertaining to traveller accommodation.
Social workers, in the main, are employed directly by local authorities, although some of the smaller authorities second the services of health board social workers as a means of addressing the accommodation needs of travellers. At present the Department makes recoupment to 36 local authorities and voluntary organisations in respect of 52 social workers. It is worth noting that the term "social worker" for the purpose of the Department's application of the recoupment scheme includes housing welfare officers employed by some corporations and welfare youth officers employed by voluntary organisations, such as Cross Care, Clare Care, the Traveller Youth Movement and others. In 1997 approximately £1.3 million was recouped by local authorities and voluntary organisations under the recoupment scheme. An equal amount has been allocated for this year and is expected to be fully expended.
There is provision in the legislation for the appointment of two persons to the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Group who, in the opinion of the Minister, have experience in relation to accommodation for travellers or are concerned with the general welfare of travellers. A social worker in Dublin Corporation who works on traveller accommodation issues was appointed by me to the group in March.
I accept the points made that these measures will not work unless adequate resources are provided to ensure that the accommodation is properly maintained and sufficient support is available at social worker and other levels to help the families concerned. This is an important part of the programme.
I welcome the Minister's comments. It is most important that the implementation of the programme is headed by the right person. He or she must be able to relate well to both sides. Everybody has experience of other areas where a person might be good at their job but is unable to relate to the various sides. In this instance, the person must be able to relate to the consultative committee, residents and travellers. It could be the best programme in the world but it will not work unless the person in charge has the right personality. Many good programmes have failed because the person in charge was dogged in terms of the implementation of measures.
I also welcome the Minister's comments and I concur that the Department in recent years has facilitated and supported the appointment of caretakers. This is a progressive move. However, the Department has not shown the same degree of commitment to the social workers issue. There is a limit on the number of cases an individual social worker can effectively handle. The ultimate objective is to place travellers in housing schemes. The answer is not to place them all in one scheme. If they are to be effectively integrated into the community, individual travellers should be placed in housing schemes with settled people.
This would help the entire process and also provide travellers with the opportunities we wish to give them. However, this needs to be managed properly. If that does not happen, all types of problems will arise. Perhaps the Minister could consider adding a provision to the Bill on Report Stage to cover this aspect. The experience of my local authority is that it sought the support of the Department in this regard but it never received it. My authority has campaigned over 15 years for adequate facilities in this area but it has always received a negative response.
I am disappointed the Senator received a negative response.
It was from the Minister's predecessors.
The Senator has not approached me about these matters since I was appointed. I would be happy to give him as positive a response as possible because all sides work together on all local authorities towards achieving the satisfactory progress everybody wants in this area.
In terms of the different methods of providing accommodation, people may have individual preferences and consider that they should be allocated local authority houses. In this day and age, the wishes and needs of the families one is trying to accommodate must be taken into account. Many of them do not wish to live in local authority houses. The problem would be easy to solve if all travellers wanted to live in local authority houses.
There is a need to provide halting sites and group housing specially constructed for travellers. Accommodation must be offered to families but many of them have turned it down. Many families who went into halting sites, group housing schemes and local authority houses have left them. The solution is not only to provide roofs over their heads. It is more complicated than that and requires the availability of many of the support services highlighted by Senators to ensure that families find the best option. I will be glad to take all the comments made into account before Report Stage, although I am not making any firm commitments other than those made already.
I urge the Minister to re-examine the time allowed for councils to consider the draft plan brought forward by the manager and staff. The section states not later than two months but this obviously means some managers may allow a longer period. However, it is essential that the timeframe is longer. If the draft plan is published at certain times of the year, for example, when estimates or, as in the case of my council at present, development plans are being discussed, the two month period may be too short to allow proper consideration. If councillors are not engaged in the decision making process, the programme may not have the public commitment required to ensure it is effective and workable. I urge the Minister to consider a longer period. This ultimately would be beneficial to the integrity of the entire process.
When the Bill is in operation the Minister will be required to lay down a specified date for the adoption of accommodation programmes. The two month period refers to a requirement on the manager to notify members of the proposals at least two months before the adoption date. The manager of a relevant housing authority must submit the draft accommodation programme or the draft of an amendment to or a replacement of the programme and the report on the public consultation process referred to in section 11 to the members of the authority not later than two months before the date specified for adoption under section 7 or 10 or where appropriate. This is a minimum period and the intention is that the specified date by which programmes must be adopted will allow for a longer period of consideration by the members. The authority must as soon as possible after such submission to the members furnish a copy of the draft to any of the bodies notified earlier in the preparation process.
I take Senator Walsh's point that the two month period is not long enough even if it is a minimum period. If there is cross party support for that, I will look at it, but I am not anxious to do something that will add further delays. An amendment was already tabled which sought that everything would be enacted in 1998. If I accept extensions to the time limits, autumn 1999 will not be reached which was the date I set and we do not want to go down that road. However, it is important to ensure local authorities have a reasonable time span within which to consider these matters. There is no obligation on the manager to wait for the minimum period before he puts the draft programme before the members; he can put it before them much earlier than that. Any extension of the time limits will delay the implementation of the legislation, which I am not anxious to encourage.
I agree with the Minister of State and Senator Walsh but the object of the exercise is that everybody understands what is happening. The programme is important and if it can be discussed within two months and everybody is happy that they have grasped its implications, I have no difficulty with it. More time may help, but if the public is included at the beginning of the process, two months may be enough.
We are agreed the programme should be adopted as quickly as possible. Senator Walsh's argument depends on the time of year it comes before the local authority. Many do not meet in August while in November estimates are adjourned left, right and centre. None of us is anxious to delay the Bill but we are anxious to ensure that when it is put before councillors, it can be properly considered. It may be possible to look at that in conjunction with Senator Doyle's amendments in respect of the time available for the adjournment of meetings.
This is not an effort to delay the process when it gets to the council but it is important that councillors are engaged in it. Two months is an inadequate period after the manager puts the programme before members given the other business of the council. This may lead members to opt out, let the manager off and then oppose him. They will then create a groundswell of public opposition to the programme as well. We are caught on the one hand trying to facilitate the Bill but, on the other, trying to get it to operate properly. However, I support it working effectively upon implementation. Will the Minister consider this in conjunction with other amendments?
It might be better to consider this in the context of time allowed for the adjournment of a meeting as it is necessary to concentrate minds. If we allow too much time it might give people an excuse not to apply their minds. Senator Doyle's amendments in respect of the time allowed for the adjournment of meetings might offer a way out.
The critical date is that by which the draft must be adopted and there is room for a little flexibility. The suggestion with regard to Senator Doyle's amendments may provide scope.
I will take the views expressed on board and will take a longer look at this on Report Stage.
Amendment No. 11 is cognate on amendment No. 10 and both may be taken together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 11, subsection (2), line 39, to delete "21" and substitute "40".
This important section deals with the failure of elected members to adopt an accommodation programme. We have a responsibility, especially with the reorganisation of local government, to look after the traveller community and others who are socially excluded. On Second Stage I compared the health of travellers with those in the settled community and the difference was frightening. There is an onus on elected members to address that problem and to provide proper housing for the traveller community.
It would be a terrible mistake if councillors did not adopt an accommodation programme and it was left to the manager. Will councils be given a second bite at the cherry before the manager steps in and introduces his or her proposals if they fail to agree in the first instance? I want more time to be given to councillors because they often must hold two or three meetings when making difficult decisions, but eventually they come to the right decision.
I support Senator Doyle because it is imperative the programme is adopted by the council. The programme will get public support which it would not have if it was seen to be imposed by the manager. While the law is the law, many laws on the Statute Book are not enforced or are difficult to enforce. This will also apply if a programme is imposed. While the Minister will not entertain my suggestion, it is totally undemocratic that a manager would be given any statutory powers. His or her powers should derive from the authority of the council he or she serves. On Second Stage, I suggested authority could be given to the elected chairman because he or she would be accountable to the public.
Senator Keogh strongly disagrees also but an extra period of time might be a way around the problem. The process would be strengthened and councillors would be encouraged to accept responsibility and make decisions without leaving them to the manager. The more legislation is drafted to entice councillors into doing that the better and there would be improved results also.
As Senator Walsh has said, I expressed my views on this matter on Second Stage. I agree that elected representatives should do their duty and formulate a plan. I would have no difficulty in allowing some flexibility in the time allowed for that but I have had the experience of a county councillor insisting that the only way to deal with the traveller accommodation problem was to insist on all travellers being housed in local authority houses. As the Minister has already said, some travellers do not want to do that. We must take account of the needs, requirements and wishes of the travelling community. We must not forget that travellers also have responsibilities, but there are county councils which will never face up to their responsibilities unless there is some method of making them do so. The method proposed in the Bill is as good as any. If councils do not face up to their responsibilities decisions will be taken by the managers and councillors will have less say in the implementation of plans than they would like. I would prefer to have proper consultation leading to the agreement of elected members, but if we want to adopt the accommodation programmes which are needed we must have a method of ensuring that they are carried out.
In an ideal world councillors would adopt this plan. The adoption of estimates is the most basic function of a council, yet they sometimes do not do so. In such cases the Minister appoints a commissioner. It would be preferable if members adopted the proposal but I would prefer to see the manager step in, with further consultation which I will refer to later, than have a commissioner appointed and decisions taken without any local reference. This difficulty would be best accommodated by extending the period for which meetings may be adjourned.
The public perception is that the manager implements all proposals and local public representatives have no control. It concerns me that this perception, that final control rests with the manager, might persist . We must avoid that. Councillors are given a mandate and must face up to their responsibilities.
I cannot accept this amendment. The period of 21 days must be viewed in the context of the minimum period of two months immediately preceding the adjournment period which members have to consider the document and the motion before them. The 21 days is intended to cover unforeseen or extenuating circumstances only. The effect of the Senator's amendment would be to increase the period for adoption of the draft by over 60 per cent.
The period of 21 days is based on the period allowed for the adjournment of council meetings where the adoption of estimates are being considered under section 10 of the City and County Management (Amendment) Act, 1955. All councils who adopt estimates have experiece of operating within that system and it has worked satisfactorily. In a small number of instances councils have not adopted their estimates. Extreme action was taken in an even smaller number of cases — for example, Dublin, Bray and, I think, Kildare.
We will discuss this area in greater detail on Report Stage. If one looks at all the necessary procedures, the period of time when the draft accommodation programme is in the public domain is quite extensive. I do not think that such an enormous amount of time is needed to deal with this issue. If the will is there it can be dealt with in a very short period. Seeking extensions will not make issues go away. The 21 day period has operated satisfactorily for the striking of a rate under section 10 of the Act. That same period should apply in this case. I cannot, therefore, accept the amendment.
I thank my colleagues for sharing my view that it is important that elected members rather than the manager adopt the programme. Will the Minister consider on Report Stage some mechanism that would allow councillors a little more time to come to the right decision? This question cannot be compared with the striking of a rate. We are dealing here with a human problem and with people who need to be rehoused. It will take time to persuade the majority of a council on some of the issues involved. I am sure, given time, that councils will come to the right decision. I merely ask the Minister to give councillors a little more time if they fail in the first instance to adopt the programme.
I must repeat that I cannot accept the amendment. Much of the work on the Bill was done by my predecessor. In many cases I have followed the proposals of the former Minister of State, Deputy McManus. I had hoped for cross-party agreement on such an important issue as this. The two months when council members consider the programme comes after a long period of public consultation and submissions and debate in the media. If councillors fail to adopt the programme within that two month period the Bill provides for a further extension of 21 days. If the extension was not provided for, Senators would propose that that would be done. The extension has been written into the Bill in anticipation of reasonable requests for it. To extend the 21 days to 40 will not solve problems which have already been in the public arena for several months. The 21 day extension period is an important part of the Bill and I must reject the amendment.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 12, line 1, to delete "one month" and substitute "2 months".
We do not want to delay the process but we are trying to ensure it works in a way in which we can stand over it. Section 14 deals with a default situation where the council fails to adopt an accommodation programme in the required period. It then falls to the manager to adopt the programme within a month of the completion of the council's consideration of it. This power is given to the manager following a long period of consideration and it is a serious one.
Those of us who are members of local authorities know that time elapses quickly between meetings. Given that the manager is empowered in the allowed period of one month to make any modifications that he considers fit, it is important that proper time is allowed. It is possible, though unlikely, that a plan could be adopted with members not quite reaching agreement. It is not as significant as the Northern talks. However, members of a council may almost come on board, without the resolution of some outstanding issues. It then falls to the manager to adopt a programme within a month. He then has the power to make any changes, no matter what stage of consideration it was left at by members. A two month period is more appropriate for such an important power.
I have given careful consideration to this amendment, on foot of an undertaking I gave on Second Stage. However, I am satisfied that the period of one month is adequate. The manager will be deeply involved in the preparation and adoption process for many months before the issue is considered by members. The manager will, therefore, be familiar with the issues involved and will be in a position to respond quickly to any new issues raised during members' discussions. Any extension of this period could lead to demands for extensions to other time limits. The cumulative effect of this would be considerable and would put back the implementation of this section.
The arguments raised by the Senator about councillors being just about to come on board at the end of a one month period could also apply to a two month period. If it was extended to three months, people could still be about to come on board. We must face up to the reality of a time factor where decisions must be made at a specific time. A decision period of one month is sufficient for a manager to adopt the programme, as it is in his hands at that stage.
It is important that people know and understand what is being done. It is also important that councillors know it is in their hands to adopt these programmes. They have adequate time and there is a varied process of consultation with the public. There is also a long period of time when the issues are debated. Failure to adopt the programme triggers the manager's involvement. The manager does not have an executive function until members have rejected plans. This is a critical part of the Bill. It is a question of making up one's mind. Extending the time period will not make it easier for those who want to oppose an accommodation programme.
I accept this is a critical part of the Bill, which is why it should be operated in a fashion which will allow as much support as possible for the plan adopted by the manager. Between meetings, managers have discussions with councillors and others. This provision gives the manager the power to make any changes he sees fit to the draft plan. This is a strong power and it should be possible for the manager to engage in further consultation and discussion, even on an informal basis, with a view to securing a programme which commands the widest possible support from the council. This amendment proposes to allow time for this to happen, particularly where the manager makes changes to the programme over and above those which existed at the stage at which consideration was completed by councillors.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 12, line 1, after "concerned" to insert "or as the case may be within one month of the end of the said 21 day period".
This amendment proposes to clarify that the one month period for the manager to act will not start until after the end of the 21 day period, during which a meeting may be adjourned.
The purpose of amendment No. 13 is not clear. It is clear that section 14 already provides that the period of one month allowed to the manager to adopt a programme commences after the 21 day period for adjourning meetings expires, where there was a necessity to avail of that facility. I am advised by the parliamentary draftsman that no further clarification is necessary in this case.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 12, line 2, after "appropriate" to insert "provided that two weeks public notice of such modifications is given, and that regard is had by the manager to any submissions received within two weeks of publication of such notice".
This amendment relates to the point I raised earlier about the power given to the manager to introduce any modifications which he sees fit to the plan after the council has failed to adopt it and during the period of one month available to him to make further changes. He can then order the adoption of the plan. I am concerned that having gone through a long process of public consultation, a manager could make major modifications which may not have due regard to the submissions and consultations which had taken place during the period when it was before the council for consideration. This amendment proposes to provide for some review mechanism for modifications which the manager proposes to introduce at the default stage.
This amendment seeks to introduce a further round of public consultation into an already extensive consultative process. Presumably, this further round is dependent on the extension to two months of the period allowed to the manager to adopt a programme, which was proposed in an earlier amendment. From a practical point of view, it is unlikely that a manager would be able to complete satisfactorily a further round of public consultation in the format proposed within the extended period of two months.
On the question of principle, there does not appear to be sufficient justification for further consultation, particularly in view of the ending, with effect from 31 May 1998, of the exemption of halting sites from the planning requirements which apply to local authority developments in their functional area. Other proposals for housing accommodation which may be inserted by the manager at this stage will also be subject to the appropriate public notice procedures under the planning regulations. It is important that a programme be adopted within a reasonable period and that would not be served by the introduction of a further consultative stage along the lines proposed. A programme adopted by the manager must comply with the other provisions relevant to its format and content.
In the period where the programme falls to the manager, following the council's failure to adopt it, what regard, if any, must he have to the consultation process and the submissions received therein? In giving him power to make any modifications he thinks necessary, may he disregard what has happened before and do something new? That is my concern about the powers given to the manger during this period.
As I said, the exemption from notification under the planning process is being withdrawn at the end of this month so the public will have the right to comment on the manager's proposals through the planning consultative process under Part X of the Planning Act. If council members choose not to adopt a programme it falls to the manager to put one forward; he can amend or change the programme put forward and discussed by the members or he can adopt the programme as he originally presented it to them in draft form. He will have the benefit of having studied all the submissions made by the public and of having heard the arguments made by members in the council's discussions, and he will be familiar with the reasons given by some councillors for refusing to support the programme. He will have to exercise his discretion as to which format that draft programme finally takes when he submits it. The programme adopted by the manager must comply with the provisions of the Act, including the requirements of section 10(2) and (3). The councillors will be familiar with all these possibilities and one hopes that will influence them to make the decision themselves rather than letting the matter pass for decision by the officials.
Section 15(1) reads:
As soon as may be after the adoption of an accommodation programme. the housing authority shall—
(a) publish a notice in at least one newspaper circulating in the functional area concerned [.]
That should be extended, as was mentioned earlier, to publication in a public area such as a library or outside public facilities. People will want to know what is happening and they may not necessarily read the particular issue or the section of the newspaper in which such advertisements appear. They lead busy lives and may only scan the newspaper and not find out that the programme has been adopted. Will the Minister comment on that point? Local radio is another possible forum and the more we inform the public the better.
Senator Doyle already raised this matter by way of amendment and appealed that such notices should be put in public places like libraries. I hope the Minister can respond positively to this.
I indicated on section 9 that I was prepared to look at the question of notification and the same applies to what has been raised here — I will be happy to look at it before Report Stage.
What is the position regarding other housing authorities? For instance, an arbitrary line has been drawn between South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council as regards dealing with traveller matters. One area is within the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown boundary but impacts on South Dublin; however, South Dublin councillors have little influence on it. In theory councils are supposed to consult with adjoining administrative areas and we should emphasise that councillors should have an input into halting sites or group housing schemes in immediately adjoining areas. That has not happened up to now and I do not know whether it will happen under this legislation. Whenever we deal with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, section 59 of the Planning Act is mentioned and we are told South Dublin County Council has no role in the matter, but it is we who must deal with the public because the sites have an impact on our area. Whatever programme is implemented this provision must be tightly enforced and councillors of one area should have a big role to play as regards schemes in an adjoining council area.
In the context of an accommodation programme, back up services should also be available to councillors, particularly support for household management and environmental awareness. Great work is being done by the senior traveller training centres — the Minister will be familiar with the centres in Galway city and county. These support services should be highlighted and perhaps the Government could give more resources under this programme to local authorities. The traveller training centres are doing great work under the aegis of the vocational education committees and more resources should be made available to them also so that their role can be strengthened. The two matters are interlinked and can complement each other in the context of an accommodation programme.
The programme is to be reviewed every three years or "at such time as the Minister may by direction specify". Why would there be a need for a review — because needs have changed, an influx into the area, or a lack of consultation between council administrative areas, such as between Kildare, Wicklow, Meath and Dublin? Do councils have control if there is a sudden influx into their area in the middle of a programme? What is the county manager's role in this regard? Is there always co-operation? For instance, if there is an influx from the boat at Rosslare, will councils in Dublin know about it within a short time? Will there be a consultation process with each county area? For example, we might have to do a review because they have all moved from the other county areas and are coming to Dublin. While these areas would not be required to undertake a review, authorities in Dublin would be obliged to.
Subsection (1) provides that a review of existing programmes be undertaken at least once every three years or at such times as may be directed by the Minister. Additionally, should the relevant housing authority consider it appropriate, it may review its programme at any stage during the period to which a specific programme relates. This would allow authorities to take account of various factors affecting change within the traveller population to facilitate constant and updated consideration of needs within that community.
Subsection (2) provides power as a consequence to a review carried out under subsection (1) for the amendment or replacement of any accommodation programme. The other subsection provides for a limit on the time necessary to adopt an amendment or replacement programme.
Where a housing authority proposes to amend or replace an accommodation programme, the day of the adoption of the amendment or replacement shall be six months after the publication of the notice in not less than one newspaper circulating within the functional area of the adoption authority. This is a notice which states the intent to amend or replace an accommodation programme and includes details where such proposals can be inspected. The situation can change and the purpose of these provisions is to allow for updating and renewing where that is deemed to be appropriate in the circumstances.
I welcome the provision allowing the Minister to require consultation between two or more housing authorities. Will it allow the Minister to ask such authorities — for example, those covering Border towns — to engage in joint programmes or part of a programme? For this to be successful it is important that accommodation be dispersed around counties and areas. Concentrations lead to a build up of other problems. While local authorities will tend to take the former approach in their own counties, problems may arise when there is a lack or co-ordination between programmes in neighbouring counties. Is there a provision allowing the Minister to intervene in such circumstances — for example, by asking two authorities to liaise regarding areas in their jurisdictions and agree a joint programme?
Senator Walsh has reiterated my views. A good example is the minimal co-ordination between South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Councillors must have an input to this programme. It will impact on us and there should be an input by the administration and the councillors, including the holding of joint meetings. It is not happening to date.
When the housing authorities have prepared their accommodation programmes and they have been considered by the Department the result can fall considerably short of the need. Will this section allow the Minister to intervene and rectify this?
With regard to the point raised by Senator Gallagher, the assessment of need will have been established and there will be a statutory obligation on each local authority to prepare an accommodation programme based on the established need. If the outcome is that suggested by the Senator it would mean that a local authority had failed to fulfil its statutory responsibility. That would have to be looked at. However, I do not expect that to happen because of the procedure provided for here. If members were tempted not to fulfil the requirement it would fall back to the manager to do so.
The other questions are answered in the section. It enables the Minister, following consultation with the relevant housing authorities concerned, to require that accommodation programmes be prepared jointly by two or more housing authorities in a specified way and by a specified date. The section also extends to the Minister a similar prerogative with regard to the amendment or replacement of an accommodation programme as that contained in subsection (1) with regard to the adoption of programmes. Power is given to the Minister, following consultations, to require two local authorities to work together to prepare a joint programme.
Many of my colleagues have indicated their concern about the composition of the local consultative committees. There is a view that it is imperative to include representatives from areas where existing halting sites or travelling housing schemes are in operation. It can be argued that the local representatives are representative of the county as a whole, including all the areas. However, if so, we are also representative of the travellers, despite their involvement in the committee, a measure with which I agree.
However, perhaps a proviso to the effect that the council would have the option to select people from areas be included. This would mean that while the council would not have to exercise the option, it would be able to select people from areas such as those I have mentioned. This will provide a conduit for information.
In areas where we have halting sites we have found that failure to detect problems early has led to groups organising themselves and opposing difficulties and expansion of the halting sites. The surrounding publicity has led to people in other areas where we had intended to do something forming themselves into opposition groups.
Failure to consult the settled community has been a fundamental flaw for a long period. There is a view that we should try and address that in the Bill by providing for the inclusion of people from such areas. This would only enhance our efforts by providing early warning signals and ensuring that we learn from mistakes and avoid them in the future. The inclusion of such people on the consultative committee would also reassure other people in other areas that we will implement planned programmes and that the council is receptive to a partnership approach — that is what the ethos of government is about — where concerns and problems will be heard and addressed. That would give confidence to people to work with us on the plan.
If I have a criticism of the Bill, it is that it tends to impose things. For example, it stipulates that the manager will do something and a plan will happen. We have found in the past that this system has not worked. The reason for this legislation is because of the failure of previous attempts. Surely we should learn from the various approaches to partnership by the social partners that an inclusive process is much more likely to be better founded and will, therefore, have a better chance to succeed. I urge that such an amendment be included.
I agree with the views expressed by Senator Walsh regarding the composition of the local consultative committee. I do not know how we will find a mechanism to include a person who will reflect an entire area. Most resident associations have umbrella groups within an area. Within that one could find a person who could represent the settled community. If a halting site is proposed for an area he or she could liaise with the local residents in the area.
While we are the representatives with a mandate, we must be seen to be fair. There must be a member from the settled community on the local consultative committee to liaise with the local settled people. The appointing authority will appoint the chairperson and members of such a committee. How will they be vetted? What criteria will be used to select people? I ask the Minister of State to consider a mechanism whereby a member of the settled community can be on the consultative committee. It would do much to overcome the problems that have prevailed to date.
The staff involved in training travellers should be represented on the body. They provide a link between the traveller home and the classroom. These people should be represented on the body because they have local knowledge of the travellers. The Minister of State should ensure that the traveller training centres have representation on the body to be set up.
With regard to subsection (1)(c) it is important that travellers will be represented. I know that is the intention, but in the past representatives of travellers and traveller bodies involved in different organisations have not always included travellers themselves. It is a difficult matter to provide for in law, but the travellers should be involved in this process.
Following on my earlier comments on urban councils, I welcome the provision in subsection (1)(d) whereby urban councils which are housing authorities will be entitled to representation on the consultative committees.
Will the appointing authority be the relevant local authority?
In reply to Senator McDonagh, I point out that we are dealing with accommodation. I mentioned earlier that the needs of travellers extend beyond accommodation. They also have health, education and training needs. We must keep in mind that this Bill deals with the accommodation needs and the section refers to the membership of the local consultative committee dealing with accommodation. I appreciate the valuable role of the staff of the training centres and others who work with the travelling community. However, it is not appropriate or necessary for them to be represented on the local consultative committee. Various interests are represented on the national consultative committee, including social workers.
Senators have sought representation on the local consultative committee for local communities by people who do not represent the travellers and who are not travellers, elected councillors or council officials. When framing this legislation I concluded that the broader community is represented by the people elected locally. Were I to exclude elected councillors from the committee I would face a different debate in the House. Providing for the membership in the manner proposed is intended to guarantee adequate representation for the elected representatives.
Senators hold strong views on this issue. However, I am not sure if there is room for manoeuvre without diminishing the effectiveness and strength of the committees. The compositional balance of the representation of the local committees is confined strictly. The proposed parameters for the representation of each group is intended to ensure that no group will be excluded from the committees' deliberations.
I have given careful consideration to the matter of representation by other groups and authorities. However, I am satisfied that, in view of the detail likely to be discussed by local committees, particularly with regard to the assessment of needs and the participation of travellers in planning, design and management of their accommodation and to further improve understanding between local authorities and travellers, the representation proposed in the Bill is appropriate.
I took into account the other channels available to local communities to express their views on local developments, including the opportunity to have an input to the draft of an accommodation programme and the recently announced decision to end the exemption of halting sites from the public notice procedures of Part 10 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Regulations, 1994, which apply to local authority developments in their own functional area. That is to come into effect on 31 May. I am also conscious of the proposals in the context of general local government reform for the establishment of strategic policy committees for the major policy areas, including housing, which will comprise community representation.
I recognise that a wide range of services is provided to travellers at local level and the arrangements to ensure co-ordination of those services are a matter for the authorities concerned. In this case we are dealing with housing accommodation. I am aware that some local authorities are part of local co-ordinating arrangements but it is not necessary to provide for this specifically in the Bill.
In accordance with any directions issued by the Minister under section 21, the Bill provides for the appointment of a chairperson and members of the local consultative committee and it specifies that the membership is to be confined to members and officials of the appointing authority concerned and representatives of the local travellers and traveller bodies. In cases where a local consultative committee has been appointed by a county council one member will be appointed from each relevant housing authority, if any, within the administrative county concerned. This means that the five borough corporations and the urban district councils named in the Bill must also have a representative on the local committee.
It is proposed that members of the local authority cannot exceed half the membership of the committee and representatives of local travellers and traveller bodies should not be less than a quarter of the membership in order to achieve a fair working balance between the groups. In deference to the arguments made about representation for local communities, I recall that in the past many local authorities had local traveller committees for which the councillors proposed the membership and they included people who were not elected and, in some cases, did not include travellers. We are addressing that anomaly by providing that members of the local authority shall not exceed half the membership of each consultative committee.
Before Report Stage I will examine the possibility of giving councillors the option of proposing people who are not councillors and giving them the option of electing interested persons. I am prepared to examine that possibility although I cannot guarantee to agree to it.
I thank the Minister of State for his comments on this thorny issue and I appreciate that he wishes to see how this problem can be overcome. He has said that the public will be made aware of what is happening at the draft stage, but people do not focus their attention until something is about to happen. They may then find that the councillor on the consultative committee favours a halting site in their area against the wishes of their local councillor. We must get this programme up and running but we cannot be seen to exclude one particular section of the community.
I see no sense in cutting a stick to beat ourselves with. I am not enthused by the prospect of giving representation on these consultative committees to people with a fixed agenda that is opposed to development.
Such people would be granted membership to oppose proposed accommodation programmes. I am worried by the suggestion that those appointed would represent areas where halting sites are proposed and that there would be no opposition. That is the other side of the coin. I do not want to open up a Pandora's box on this issue as I want to make progress. The consultative process being put in place is absolutely new; it is open, transparent and moves away from the old system whereby in many cases managers suggested a site for traveller facilities because the council owned that site. It was not the result of judicious site selection, which is an important part of this process, and an attitude of forcing matters through was involved in that system. I hope that the procedures we are proposing mean that thought will be given to the best location that satisfies the wishes of those who are to live there and that is also reasonable to the local community.
It is no use having our heads in the sand about the strength of communities' views on these issues. Communities have strong views on many matters, but traveller facilities and public dumps are two issues that blow the lid off people's reason. I have seen venom and hatred in the eyes of people who would be admired as high ranking Christians in their own communities when these matters arose. That cannot be ignored and I hope this legislation deals with the matter sensibly, reasonably and in a way that accommodates as many people's views as possible. We can then provide satisfactory accommodation for people living in intolerable conditions.
I reassure the Minister of State that we are not attempting to appoint people to these committees simply to obstruct progress.
It might be the outcome.
I do not think so and will give the Minister of State an example. Wexford County Council had problems for over a decade with a scheme for Drumgoole at the bottom of Vinegar Hill. It is well known in the Department of the Environment. Various attempts were made to impose halting sites on the area. A small traveller housing scheme there was in an atrocious condition and that led to intolerable circumstances for the neighbouring settled community. Some members of that settled community felt so strongly that they brought a case to the High Court. The case aroused the ire of the manager and some of my council colleagues, but as a result of it the community forced the manager and council to engage in dialogue. A very satisfactory outcome to that dialogue eventually emerged. It was costly because of the court action but instead of a halting site there is an extended housing scheme which is working very well. The area has been cleaned up and travellers are accommodated.
Failure to recognise the difficulties such schemes can impose on communities and to provide measures that will anticipate and address such difficulties will provide the seeds of failure for this legislation. Because of that experience, Wexford County Council is seeking to appoint travellers' representatives to our groups, but it is also looking for representatives of the settled community who have experienced problems in this regard. That is a progressive step. We must identify the issues and put mechanisms in place to deal with them. If we fail to do so we will encounter widespread opposition to what we are trying to do here. This is a strongly held view in our Seanad group, and some Members have expressed it to me privately.
I am glad the Minister of State has said he will examine the issue between now and Report Stage. Nobody wants to put obstacles in the way of progress in this matter. As the Minister of State said, the priority here is the accommodation of people who are genuinely in need. However, we must also learn from experience if we are to succeed.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 19, line 36, to delete "five" and substitute "15".
This is a difficult area and I realise the Minister of State is operating under many constraints in putting forward these proposals. My amendment seeks to address a practical situation that could arise.
This provision allows the council to serve notice to remove a temporary dwelling to a serviced site, including a site with limited facilities, within a five mile distance, where the temporary dwelling could be appropriately accommodated.
I would like more flexibility in this section to allow a council to offer accommodation on a transient site it might have available. I welcome the fact that the Minister of State is addressing this area, because councillors will know that efforts made to provide accommodation can be quickly undermined by unauthorised encampments that can be set up very quickly. My fear relates particularly to rural local authority areas, where a council could assess needs in a number of towns and set out a programme to meet that need. A number of transient sites could also be provided throughout that county. A situation could then arise whereby a permanent halting site is full because the county's needs have been met.
Extra people who move in must also be accommodated. If a transient site were available in the county at a distance further than the five mile radius allowed in the Bill the council would be precluded from meeting its obligations to accommodate such people. The council is under no legal obligation to house a settled person on the ordinary housing list within five miles of where they currently live, although I know the housing officers will do their best to offer them one of their first three choices. Legally, such people can be housed anywhere in the county, which could mean a distance of over 15 miles.
I am not insisting on 15 miles as an absolute limit; I am using it to illustrate the point that the council will be unable to move illegal encampments in a town which has provided three or four halting sites to vacant accommodation provided at taxpayers' expense. It will lead to further difficulties, resentment and agitation among the settled community if the council cannot meet its obligation to travellers who arrive in an area at short notice or on a temporary basis by offering them accommodation on transient sites in the county.
The legislation is very weak in this regard. If the council does not have a halting site it cannot move travellers from the side of the road. There have been several High Court judgments on this issue which stated councils cannot move travellers unless they provide proper, standardised halting sites with running water and other facilities. I have spent four months dealing with the problem of travellers in my area who are living at the side of the road in terrible conditions, creating litter and abusing public amenities. We cannot move them on because we have nowhere to move them. This legislation will be implemented in five years' time but we do not have a serviced site at the moment. The legislation will be meaningless because officials are unable to move travellers.
I support Senator Gallagher's comments on the five mile limit on the grounds that it may cause a major problem in rural areas. The Minister should expand that limit and give local authorities an opportunity to carry out the necessary developments. Local authorities cannot afford to provide hard stands in more than one or two locations in a county. Most travellers in the midlands tend to stay in one county. The five mile limit is tying the hands of local authorities.
I am not sure if 15 miles would be considered a reasonable distance but I have no difficulty extending the limit. I cannot understand why this is a discretionary power. It costs at least £40,000 or £50,000 to build a halting site. The section states the local authority may require the person to move to a site provided they can "appropriately be accommodated on that site", which assumes the local authority has a discretionary power to move a caravan to a vacancy on the site. That should be mandatory because many of the problems have arisen due to the failure of local authorities to confront these issues.
I know council officials who failed to act because they wanted the council to decide to extend a halting site from six bays to 20 bays, which was rightly unacceptable to the councillors. They then allowed a build up of caravans on the roadside in order to create public pressure on the councillors to make that decision. That is an intolerable way to deal with the problem. The result was that a halting site which had been very well managed became a shambles because of the congregation of caravans around it. It has since been improved but it was never restored to its original condition. It should be a mandatory rather than a discretionary provision that caravans within five miles of a halting site should be moved to any vacancies on that site.
Senator Gallagher's amendment proposes to change the five mile limit to a 15 mile limit. The provisions of the new section 10(1)(b) of the 1992 Act do not specify a distance within which the alternative site must be located. The provisions of paragraph (b) are intended to cover many of the situations anticipated by the Senator's proposal to increase the distance from five to 15 miles. The difference is that the distance limit has been removed only in the circumstances stated, that is, if the temporary dwelling is unfit for human habitation, likely to interfere with the public or private amenities or on health or safety grounds.
The existing limit of five miles has been regarded by the courts as reasonable. I am advised any extension of this limit must have regard to a test of reasonableness, which would be linked to the circumstances set out at paragraph (b), having regard to the principles of natural justice. Due to the existing pressures on halting site accommodation, the number of vacancies at any one time is only a fraction of the number of families seeking bays on sites. In these circumstances the courts have questioned the rationale of moving travellers when no alternative accommodation is available.
The acceleration of the rate at which accommodation is provided, which is the main purpose of this Bill, is the key to eliminating unauthorised encampments. Given what I have said, I cannot accept the amendment.
Section 31 provides for improvements in the powers available to housing authorities under the Housing Acts to require the removal of an unauthorised temporary dwelling, which is a caravan parked in a public place. Under the revised provisions, a housing authority will be empowered to serve a notice to move in certain circumstances. In the event of non-compliance with the terms of the notice, the housing authority may remove the temporary dwelling to the specified location or, in the case of the category at subsection (1)(c), to a place which is not less than one mile from the accommodation concerned.
At present under section 10 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1992, a housing authority may only serve a notice to move if the temporary dwelling can be appropriately accommodated on a site provided by that authority within a distance of five miles. The existing section 10 has some practical limitations. An urban district council could not serve a notice in respect of a temporary dwelling if the alternative site was provided by the county council, although the site might be very close.
Subsection (1)(a) provides that notice may be served to remove an unauthorised temporary dwelling to any serviced site provided by any housing authority, or by a voluntary body with the assistance of a housing authority, within a five mile distance where the temporary dwelling could, in the opinion of the housing authority serving the locality, be appropriately accommodated. The site to which the temporary dwelling may be removed may be in the functional area of the housing authority or, with the agreement of another authority, in the area of another housing authority, or, with the agreement of a voluntary organisation, on a site provided by that organisation. It is also clarified as a result of the revisions to section 13 of the Housing Act, 1988, including the new definition of site with limited services that the alternative site may have services other than those envisaged for permanent accommodation. It is intended that the level of services for limited sites, that is, sites for stays of a short duration, would be the subject of separate guidelines to be issued in the near future. These guidelines are already being prepared in consultation with the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Group.
Subsection (1)(b) deals with the removal to a site within or outside the functional area where the authorised temporary dwelling is unfit for human habitation due to lack of proper basic services, is likely to obstruct or interfere with public or private amenities or is likely to constitute or be a risk to personal or public health or safety. The notice may require the removal of the temporary dwelling to any serviced site, including a site with limited facilities within the functional area or, with the agreement of another authority, to a site within the functional area of another housing authority.
There is a distinction. There is the right to remove a caravan, in certain circumstances, to a distance further than five miles. However, if there is a site where a caravan which is not deemed to be in contravention of the stipulations made in the Bill — unfit for human habitation, interfering with public and private amenities and so on — and can be appropriately sited on an existing serviced site, it can be moved to a distance of five miles. This is a reasonable provision. This is the kernel of many communities' objections to the notion of halting sites and facilities being provided in their vicinity.
Illegal parking has resulted in the creation of very unsightly conditions. The settled community is embarrassed to think that anyone could live in such horrible conditions. It is a reflection on society that people are parked illegally in all sorts of places without proper facilities such as running water or toilets and where the basics of life are denied to them. It is obvious that people living on such sites are going to create unsightly conditions which cause anger. Local communities have two feelings — they have an inner feeling of sympathy for anyone living in such conditions and they do not want their area dragged down by the location of such an unsightly installation.
The law has been interpreted and the traveller community and local communities are aware of this. Local authorities have been in and out of courts. Where there is no provision for travellers the courts have not supported the local authorities in seeking to move people away from high profile, unsightly sites. This is an attempt to deal with this situation taking into account the experiences of local authorities and others in the courts and the advice of the Attorney General. It is deemed that what is provided for in the Bill will be interpreted by the courts as reasonable. If we extend the five mile limit to 15 miles the courts would not deem that reasonable and the section would be upended in the courts.
The courts will examine subsection (1)(b) which gives local authorities the power to move caravans beyond five miles in certain circumstances. If circumstances are worse we may be dealing with one mile limit at a later stage. I cannot accept this amendment but I hope the House understands the effectiveness of paragraph (a) as distinct from paragraph (b) and how paragraph (b) covers the point the amendment seeks to address.
The Minister of State said that local authorities can move caravans beyond the five mile limit in certain circumstances.
That is a proposal in the Bill.
What are those circumstances?
I have read them: if a temporary dwelling is unfit for human habitation due to the lack of proper basic services; if it is likely to obstruct or interfere with public or private amenities or constitute a personal risk to their own or the public health or safety.
That covers everything. We can take it that a local authority can move people to a site beyond the five mile limit in those circumstances?
That is what is proposed in the Bill. Based on our experience we would expect it would be deemed to be operable and that that will be the situation if the Bill passes.
I welcome this provision as this is the kernel of the problem. Up to now the local authorities' hands were tied. They could not move people. There are no halting sites in my area. However, there may be a standard site beyond the five miles which could take people. It is welcome that we can now say to local authorities that they can move people to a site beyond five miles if there is no site within five miles.
It would be unwise to make it obligatory on local authorities to act in all these cases as with the one mile radius under subsection (1)(c). It is important that we leave the discretion to those dealing with individual families and circumstances. When one includes mandatory regulations personal circumstances are sometimes not taken into consideration. In view of the sensitivities of this issue, I would not be in favour of making these powers mandatory. We will have to rely on the common sense and experience of senior local authority officials. We are giving them powers which they have not had up to now. These powers increase their authority to deal with certain situations. However, at all times the individual family circumstances have to be taken into consideration by the official who is going to initiate these procedures. That is why it is important that the provision is discretionary and not mandatory.
I understand what the Minister of State is saying. However, if a family is in a caravan at the side of the road and the council attempts to move them to a halting site where there are satisfactory services, that is improving the situation for that family. I am concerned about instances where officials may be working to a different agenda.
This is a good provision which gives powers to local authorities to move people. However, am I correct in thinking that this will have little effect as it is predicated on there being alternative accommodation available at a halting site to which the caravans can be moved? That is the difficulty. The results on the ground will not be much different than at present unless a large number of halting sites are constructed quickly. From talking to officials who have struggled with this issue over a long period, and, for various reasons, including public liability claims which have become the trend in halting sites, there appears to be a move away from the provision of halting sites and towards providing houses. The power is good but the solution does not appear to be effective.
I share Senator Walsh's concern. It is hard to choose a limit. My intention in choosing a 15 mile limit was to put the council in a position where, having accommodated travellers assessed as being in need within the council area, it would discharge its obligations by offering a place on a transient site to any travellers who arrived in its area on a short-term basis. I am not hung up on the 15 mile radius but I have no doubt the provisions in section 31(1)(b) will end up in the courts. The council will send notice to someone telling them, under subparagraphs (i), (ii) or (iii), to move to a transient site eight or ten miles away and that order will end up in the court. Section 31(1)(b)(i) states "(i) unfit for human habitation due to lack or inadequacy of water supply.". As few if any caravans have that facility, almost all could be moved on but I do not believe the courts will not allow that to happen. A council which attempts to exercise its power under section 31(1)(b) will have it tested in the courts and what they will decide is impossible to predict. A council which has done its best and which has met its statutory obligations to reasonably accommodate travellers in its area should be able to offer a place on a transient site to additional travellers who arrive without that power being questioned. I do not know how that can be worded but I would like to see it being made law.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 are cognate on amendment No. 16 and all three may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 20, line 27, to delete "one mile" and substitute "3 miles".
I am aware of the Minister's response to my concerns in this area and I accept that the one mile limit is the recommendation of the task force. I am also concerned that it has been the pattern in many council areas that where halting sites are provided, it is the same part of the town or county which is consistently asked to shoulder a greater proportion of the burden than is necessary. Where part of a town or county is prepared to accept a halting site, it should be possible to reassure them that they will not have unauthorised encampments in the area. One mile is a decent radius and I do not quibble with that. Sites have tended to be located in local authority areas or near dumps or sewerage works. A situation could arise under this Bill where an area of a town or county which has accepted a halting site is also asked to accept unauthorised encampments. There should be a three mile radius but I accept the points made in the task force report about tests of reasonableness so I do not expect the Minister to accept the amendments. However, it should be possible to reassure people that, where there is a properly serviced halting site in their area, there will not be two or three illegal encampments around it. I am aware from my town that the most significant obstacle to further provision of halting sites in the town is that there are two illegal encampments beside the official one. A one mile radius would allow some leeway but I would like to see it extended to two at least.
I also have difficulty with this part of the section. It is unclear whether it is a one mile radius or one mile by road. In my area there are three encampments within a one mile radius of the halting site. It is also difficult to define a traveller family within a site as they can easily move from one site to the next. It creates many problems so perhaps the three mile radius is necessary. However, that might be too much so I would be happy with the two mile radius. I understand the Minister's stance when he stated that, on legal advice, a limit greater than one mile interfered with natural justice and that an area should not be ringfenced as off-limits to travellers. If the Attorney General has argued that anything more than one mile is unreasonable within the terms of natural justice, then we could run into trouble with the one mile limit. I would like to hear the Minister's views on that.
Most towns have a boundary which is established by the speed limit at its perimeter. The Minister should enforce the one mile limit from the perimeter of a town because, if a site is on the approach road to a town, the one mile limit could result in an illegal encampment being on the other side of town. Sometimes the sites of these illegal encampments are near schools. Will the Minister consider a one mile limit from the town boundary established by the 30 mile speed limit as it would be fair to the residents of the towns in question?
I agree with much of what has been said but I wish to expand on it. Leaving aside the expansion of the limit, there should be an absolute proscription on any illegal parking within one mile of a halting site. It is the one issue which has bred opposition to halting sites. By allowing it to happen, we have cut a stick to beat ourselves. It is a part of the Bill with which I am unhappy. I know from experience that officials will tend not to take action in the hope there might shortly be a vacancy on a halting site. Alternatively, they will use the argument that going to court will not achieve a favourable decision, which is often the case. They will also ask where the travellers will be situated. Since the travellers are often related to those living in the halting site, they will tend to congregate in illegal encampments around it. That creates opposition to the concept of providing halting sites. If the idea is to be successful and to be accepted, the sites must be seen to be effectively managed. The only way that can be done is by having a prescribed area adjacent to them in which caravans will not be allowed park, be it a one mile radius or otherwise. The Garda and councils should also have the authority to physically remove the caravans. Anything less would allow the huge opposition to halting sites to remain.
I recognise the three mile limit may not be feasible but Senator Moylan's suggestion in respect of a limit beyond the speed limit areas is something which ought to be considered further.
It is important to remember the main purpose of the provision is the protection of the travellers who have been allocated proper accommodation and the protection of residents in the immediate vicinity from an influx of other families seeking to be accommodated. This "honey pot" effect is well known to all of us and is what we are dealing with specifically here.
The one mile limit with no provision as to alternative accommodation was recommended in the report of the Task Force on the Travelling Community. This is the only power under the Bill to deal with unauthorised encampments without a corresponding obligation to provide alternative appropriate accommodation. As this represents a significant departure from the existing provisions of section 10 of the 1992 Act and the position adopted by the courts in many cases, the advice of the Attorney General was sought on this provision. On the basis of that advice, I am satisfied that the one mile provision is reasonable in the circumstances stated in paragraph (c) (i) and (ii).
A radius of one mile encompasses a significant area, particularly in urban areas and the protection offered is considerable. Depending on the distribution of sites or other accommodation, it could result in the exclusion of unauthorised encampments from a large area. Any further increase in the one mile provision could result in a blanket prohibition in some areas. The experience has been that the courts have taken a poor view of such far-reaching measures in the absence of adequate justification. I consider, therefore, that the radius of one mile is more than adequate for the purposes for which the provision is designed, that is, the protection of residents and amenities where accommodation has been provided.
Any extension of this area could lead to the possibility of the provision being used for purposes for which it was not intended and also of being upended in the courts. It is based on careful legal analysis on what might or might not be deemed reasonable by the courts. It is on that basis that the one mile provision has been included. It was a recommendation of the task force and is a major instrument which will be available to local authorities to deal with one of the most regular complaints they receive from residents.
With the provision of facilities, relations gather around a settlement. They cannot get inside because of barriers or whatever and so they park outside. We are all familiar with this problem and this is a serious attempt to regulate the situation. We must bear in mind that the solution to these issues is the implementation of the accommodation programmes and the provision of proper facilities for travellers and that such situations will not arise.
I hope we are talking about a short-term measure, which is necessary to build confidence among communities in other areas. If they, after the due process of consultation, support proposals, they will know what they support and will not find that a six caravan halting site means 20 families move into their area. The six caravans would be adequately and satisfactorily provided for on site where all the facilities would be available, but the other 14 caravans — that may be an exaggeration — would be parked on the footpath or in lay-bys with no proper facilities and unsightly and unsanitary conditions for those living in them and with children being reared in those circumstances. This a new provision which I ask the House to support.
I had hoped the Minister would accede to one mile from the town boundary. This will result in travellers moving from one location to another in towns which provide halting sites. We tried to move too fast in the past in that we should have moved on hard stands and halting sites and then to housing. I hope the Minister will look again and get legal advice on this issue. The one mile radius will be helpful but the Department will tell local authorities with a problem on the other side of a town to provide a halting site there. One or two towns in a county will be overloaded while other areas will not have to take their fair share. If we all take a share, we will not have a problem. We will be creating a problem by not moving one mile from the town boundary.
This whole process is about everybody playing a part in providing facilities and not leaving certain towns to be overloaded. It is the intention that every local authority would proceed at the same time to assess, draw up accommodation plans, adopt them and seek to implement them. The objective is to counter the Senator's fears as regards some areas being overloaded.
I do not know if the Senator has looked at too many maps in relation to town boundaries. It is the most irregular anomalous line which may be drawn on any map. If one looks at the town boundary for my city, it is the most irregular line one could imagine and follows ditches and streams. It does not follow a rational or logical course. When making law, it is important to lay down something which can be clearly interpreted and where there is no doubt as to where the line is. A radius is a satisfactory method to implement the distance factor which must be determined here. I do not know if a situation will arise where somebody will have to measure it. It could be clearly established that the local authority would have a line and it would know exactly where it was if it was seeking to implement this provision and tow away, as would be the procedure, caravans illegally parked outside new halting sites. Town boundaries would not provide a satisfactory marking as it would not bear any relationship to the distance from a particular halting site. One might have to travel a long or short distance, depending in what direction one travelled. That is certainly the case given the way the boundary around Galway has been drawn.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 24, lines 40 and 41, to delete "a caravan on".
Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 1997, the relevant authority can refuse a letting of a house owned by it to a tenant involved in anti-social behaviour. This section seeks to extend this provision to caravans. However, it omits to qualify the requirement referring to caravans or sites owned by it or operated under statute. There cannot be any legal authority to refuse authorisation to occupy a caravan unless the authority owns it and unless its by-laws apply to it. The amendment seeks to make clear that it is the site which the authority has control over and not a person's caravan.
The purpose of this amendment was not clear to me. The term "authorised to occupy a caravan and site" is used extensively throughout the new section 3(a) in relation to site excluding orders and in sections 3(a) and 14(a) as such an authorisation is the key reference point to initiate the proceedings or actions provided for. The phrase derives from the power of housing authorities under section 13 of the 1998 Housing Act, as revised by section 28 of this Bill, to provide improved management controlled sites for caravans. The normal provisions of the housing legislative code, that is, in relation to lettings and tenancies, do not apply. Control and allocation of bays on sites is exercised on the basis of authorising a caravan or caravans to occupy or to be occupied on the bay or site. "Caravan" as defined in section 13 of the Housing Act, 1988, and revised by section 28 of this Bill covers all the types of temporary dwellings which are authorised to be placed on sites. The term is technical and I am satisfied that it covers the situations that are expected to arise.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 5, line 7, to delete "1993," and substitute "1998,".
The amendment is consequential on an earlier amendment to take account of the new planning Act.
The amendment is agreed. The new planning Act was passed since the Bill was published. The date "1998" must be inserted to cover the most recent addition to the planning Acts.
When is it proposed to take Report Stage?
Report Stage will be taken next Wednesday, subject to the agreement of the Whips. I thank the Minister for taking the debate. He is a frequent visitor to the House. It was said to me earlier that he is almost an honorary Senator because he is in the House so often.
That is not exactly what was said to the Senator.
I will not repeat what exactly was said.
We do not want it on the record.
The interest among Senators about this issue is high and the debate is indicative of their commitment to ensuring the success of the Bill. We hope that many of the suggestions made, which have the support of all sides, will be accepted by the Minister on Report Stage.