My Department's responsibility in relation to Traveller accommodation is to ensure that there is an adequate legislative and financial framework in place within which local authorities, voluntary bodies and Travellers may provide or be assisted in the provision of accommodation for Travellers.
The framework for the provision of Traveller accommodation is set out in primary legislation, the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998. Under this Act, each county and city council, borough council, and the town councils of Bray and Dundalk, were required to prepare, adopt, and take any reasonable steps necessary to implement five year Traveller accommodation programmes covering the period 2000 to 2004. All relevant local authorities adopted such programmes and are in the process of implementing them.
In the first three years of the accommodation programmes, 2000 to 2002, a total of 999 units of accommodation were provided or brought back into service through refurbishment. This consists of 323 new units of Traveller-specific accommodation, 239 units of refurbished accommodation, 422 standard houses which were allocated to Traveller families and 15 single instance houses which were purchased for Traveller families in that period. Traveller-specific accommodation includes group houses and halting-site bays (permanent, transient and emergency/temporary bays).
Traveller-specific accommodation is funded under my Department's Traveller accommodation capital programme and in the years 2000 to 2002 a total of €65.46 million was spent on such accommodation. In 2003 an additional €28.95 million was spent on such accommodation and the funding of Traveller-specific accommodation will continue to be made available. This funding is in addition to expenditure on the provision of standard local authority houses provided under my Department's local authority housing programme which are allocated to Traveller families.
The meeting referred to in the question was requested, in August 2003, by the mayor of South Dublin County Council when she proposed that representatives of the seven local authorities in the Dublin region — Dublin City Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Fingal, Kildare, Meath, South Dublin, and Wicklow county councils — be invited by me to discuss the provision of transient sites for Travellers in the greater Dublin area.
In November 2001, my Department requested all local authorities, including those in the Dublin region, to consult and liaise with adjoining authorities with a view to achieving a co-ordinated approach to the provision of transient sites. This approach was recommended so that the delivery of units of transient accommodation would begin to flow from each authority in a region within the same timeframe thereby helping to avoid an influx of Traveller families into one authority in an area on delivery of its site.
In January 2002, Fingal County Council organised a seminar involving the seven local authorities in the greater Dublin region as well as Traveller representatives to consider the approach to the provision of transient sites in the greater Dublin area.
The former Minister with responsibility for housing and urban renewal twice, in November 2001 and February 2002, met representatives — elected and official — of these authorities with a view to achieving progress on a co-ordinated approach to the provision of transient sites in the area. No concrete proposals emerged from local authorities from any of these initiatives and there was no indication that progress was likely following the initiatives.
In responding to the request for the holding of another meeting involving the authorities concerned, I considered that, in the light of the experience in relation to the two meetings which were held on this issue where no concrete proposals resulted, my involvement in a further meeting at this stage would not be likely to advance the position on the ground and that the matter should be pursued by the authorities themselves in the first instance. In this context, I consider that any proposal for co-ordinated action on transient sites within the region is a matter for the authorities themselves to initiate in line with the Department's advice of November 2001.
Officials of my Department maintain close contacts with local authority officials on the implementation of all elements of their accommodation programmes, including transient sites. These contacts will continue and the necessary assistance and support will continue to be provided to local authorities in bringing forward proposals in relation to transient sites and other categories of Traveller accommodation.
I will continue to support fully the provision of facilities for transient Traveller families, as well as the provision of permanent accommodation for families in need of such accommodation, in accordance with Traveller accommodation programmes adopted by local authorities throughout the country. It is, however, a matter for the authorities themselves to provide the required accommodation within their respective areas of responsibility.