Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (28)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

28. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans for the implementation of the recommendations of the expert group on Traveller accommodation published in July 2019. [45235/19]

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Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Housing)

As we know, it was in 2017 that the Housing Agency, on foot of a request from the Department, published a very extensive report showing the failings in the Traveller accommodation budgetary process. To the Minister's credit, he put together an expert group which produced a very good report, which was published in July. We are now four months on from that so I am interested to hear the Minister's intentions with regard to progressing the very important recommendations of this report.

I am currently considering the report and recommendations of the expert group on Traveller accommodation, which has been published on my Department’s website, with a view to implementing appropriate actions and policies that will improve the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally. The priority is to ensure that full use is made of the increasing level of funding available for investment in Traveller accommodation. We must ensure this money is spent and that further investment for the years ahead is also secured.

In Ireland, accommodation for Travellers is provided through a wide range of options including standard local authority housing, private housing assisted by local authority or voluntary bodies, private rented accommodation and Traveller-specific accommodation. Travellers may express a preference across the range of accommodation types at any stage when applying for social housing support through the social housing needs assessment process. It is noted that this process provides additional accommodation options to Traveller families to meet their culturally appropriate needs.

As Deputy Ó Broin will be aware, the 32 recommendations made by the expert group to accelerate the delivery of Traveller accommodation are comprehensive and wide-ranging and include proposals aimed at addressing research deficiencies, including deficiencies in how information is gathered and used so that needs can be identified clearly through the social housing assessment process; removing any potential delays and obstacles in the planning system with regard to delivery – a number of recommendations have been made in this regard; increasing resources and delivery capacity; and strengthening governance arrangements.

In the context of the 32 recommendations, my Department is now liaising with key stakeholders on issues arising across all relevant Departments. It should be noted that the expert group’s report has also been shared with the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee and that members of the committee are considering the report and will provide submissions to my Department, as appropriate.

My Department and I will, in turn, further consider the issues arising and set out a roadmap for implementation of agreed recommendations. It could also be called a mini action plan or a project plan. I know the Deputy loves action plans. We find them quite useful in getting work done. This involves bringing all stakeholders into the conversation, which we have been doing over recent weeks and months. We have been gathering their opinions on, and analysis of, the matter.

We will try to combine all of that as well. The Deputy can be assured that the Government is committed to accelerating and increasing the delivery of much-needed Traveller accommodation, and the funding is in place to support this delivery.

We are due in to a committee next week with the Deputy, which may prove a better time to go through each recommendation to see how we can progress them. We are committed to doing this also and we will put in place a project team, which we are already implementing, with an action plan to implement the various actions. Some are short and medium-term, but we would like to be in a position to start implementing the recommendations. We have started some of them already, but starting from January on, let us have a group in place. We will put somebody from the Department in charge to implement this and follow through on all of the actions.

I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge the work and commitment of the Minister of State to this project. Because of this commitment, he has built up a considerable volume of trust with members of the Opposition and with the stakeholders.

I have two concerns. The Housing Agency's report was published in January 2017. Extensive consultations took place during that. The expert group did its work and got engaged. I do not believe there is necessarily a need for a wide sectoral consultation. It is more about the Government deciding which of the recommendations it is going to implement and what the timeline is. The sooner the Minister of State can bring that forward the better. I and many of the Traveller advocacy organisations would hate to see another long round of discussions when really what we want to see is what is going to be implemented.

There was a 45% underspend in 2017 of the money allocated by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to local authorities for Traveller accommodation. That underspend rose in the following year to 48%. Halfway through this year it was less than 20%, although I am aware this will increase. A huge amount of money is not being spent. The urgency on this is enormous. I am happy with the action plans if the actions are good and if the target dates are met. The sooner the Minister of State can bring that forward so that everybody is clear as to how the 32 recommendations are going to be implemented, the better it will be for all of us.

I wish to clarify that it will not be a big round of consultation at all. To be fair to all of the various stakeholders who will be involved in implementing the actions, I need to get some quick comments from them. This will include the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee, NTACC, which is there to advise me and the rest of us on this. That group has not given me its formal thoughts as I have not had a chance to engage with it. I have had some initial brief submissions from the three main Traveller organisations represented on the NTACC. I understand they want to give some further thoughts on that and I am anxious to get them. We have had submissions from the City and County Management Association, CCMA, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, the Irish Traveller Movement accommodation association committee, CENA, and Wexford County Council. I am also awaiting a submission, which is on its way to me, from the Department of Justice and Equality. That is important. When we have the submissions we can move on this. The plan is to put in place a project board, which I will sit on, to drive these actions. There will be a little bit of expertise required, if need be, for each action in certain areas. They are also being put together. We fully intend to move on with this as soon as possible and will not sit back.

While the spend is a lot higher than 20% now, it should be at 100% and they should be looking for more. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, and I are on record saying that we want more money spent in this regard. We recognise the need. If there are available resources, we use them to find other accommodation solutions for Travellers, even if not Traveller-specific. The money is put to good use. It is not handed back. It is spent on housing and housing solutions, and it is important to recognise that too. We want it spent in the right way, however. There are also some planning changes there, but it is to be hoped that if everybody buys into this, we will be able to make some great progress.

With regard to the delays in 2017, the Deputy will be aware of some of the history of that. We would not accept all the responsibility for that. I believe it was a little bit slow and it should have moved faster, but there were reasons for that. We are moving on in the right direction now and it is important that we do so.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 26.