I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 23 together.
The Abridged Estimate for my Department for 2014 includes a capital provision of €3 million for Traveller-specific accommodation in 2014. While this represents a decrease of €1 million compared to 2013, I do not expect that this will have a major impact on activity in 2014 as the current round of Traveller Accommodation Programmes come to an end this year. This capital funding stream is used to provide 100% funding to housing authorities for the provision and maintenance of Traveller-specific accommodation and, in doing so, is designed to meet the specific and distinct accommodation needs of the Traveller community, such as halting sites and group housing schemes.
In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, new multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes, which will run for the 5-year period to the end of 2018, will be introduced in 2014. As a result, 2014 will be a transition year with a strong emphasis on the planning of programmes for the period up to end 2018. Based on the current status of approved Traveller-specific projects and considering that the new programme must be adopted by April 2014, this is considered sufficient to meet current requirements. If it transpires that the 2014 Estimates provision is insufficient, I will review the position with a view to augmenting the capital provision.
It should be recognised that the vast majority of Traveller families have opted for, and are accommodated in, standard housing provided by local authorities and financed from my Department's capital allocations for social housing, or in private rented accommodation with Rent Supplement support. It is open to Travellers to opt for any form of accommodation and local authority Traveller Accommodation Programmes are intended to reflect these preferences.
There are high vacancy levels at present in Traveller-specific group housing schemes in some local authorities. With a view to ascertaining the reasons for this, an independent research study is currently being carried out by the Housing Agency to examine the reasons why Traveller families vacate Traveller-specific accommodation and to make recommendations to inform future policy and practice. The National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (NTACC), which is a statutory body to advise me in relation to general matters concerning Traveller accommodation, has expressed concerns in relation to the level of vacant Traveller-specific accommodation nationally. It is expected that this study will be completed early in 2014 and its findings will be presented to the NTACC, who will consider the policy implications. I look forward to working with the committee on this issue and other concerns in relation to Traveller accommodation.
The Government remains committed to meeting the accommodation needs of Travellers. Since the adoption of the third round of programmes in 2009, it is estimated that over 450 units of Traveller-specific accommodation had been provided to end 2012, supported by the provision of approximately €50 million in capital funding from my Department. This is in addition to expenditure on standard local authority housing and other housing supports. The results of this substantial financial commitment are reflected in the significant reduction in the numbers of Traveller families on unauthorised sites, notwithstanding the steady increase in the numbers of Traveller families nationally over recent years.