Thursday, 3 October 2019

Ceisteanna (8)

Joan Collins


8. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on a report (details supplied); and the way in which he plans to implement it. [37708/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Justice)

The original question I submitted to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government noted that the report of the task force on the Travelling community of July 1995 featured 340 recommendations, of which few, if any, have been implemented. There has been no review or statutory oversight to ensure the report was implemented. What is the Minister's view on the report and how does he plan to implement it?

I thank the Deputy for her question and her interest in this area. The report of the task force on the Travelling community, published in 1995, was a ground-breaking analysis of the needs of the Traveller community and made some valuable recommendations in a range of areas designed to improve the status of Travellers in Irish society. In 1998, a monitoring and co-ordination committee was established and it produced two reports, in December 2000 and December 2005, respectively, on the implementation of the recommendations. Thereafter, the then Government pursued other approaches to address Traveller disadvantage through the high level group on Traveller issues and the National Traveller Monitoring and Advisory Committee.

However, we cannot revert to 24 years ago and we must take our frame of reference from the present day. Much has happened since 1995. In 2011, the national Traveller and Roma integration strategy was drawn up and this has been followed by the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy which runs from 2017 to 2021. This latter strategy represents a whole-of-Government approach to bringing about meaningful change and progress for the Traveller and Roma communities in Ireland and is a development of the approach taken in the task force on the Travelling community report and its aftermath. The strategy contains 149 actions grouped under ten themes, including cultural identity, education, employment, health and accommodation. The strategy is a living document which will be reviewed and adjusted as required. Traveller and Roma interests were involved in its development and are members of the committee monitoring its implementation which is chaired by me. This is the framework within which we can continue progress for Travellers and Roma to the end of 2021. This type of strategic approach with Traveller and Roma representatives at its centre is the one that will pay dividends in the longer term.

In addition to the strategic framework, the Department of Justice and Equality provides significant amounts of funding to Traveller projects. Projects funded this year include additional funding to the Traveller and Roma initiatives of €500,000, of which €391,210 was prepaid in 2018. The budget supplies funding to seven Traveller projects, six non-governmental organisations, NGOs, including the Traveller counselling service and the education pilot. The Traveller mediation service was approved funding of €250,000 for 2019 from the Dormant Accounts Fund. Some €25,000 was allocated from the budget to fund the Traveller Pride awards and concert event. The education pilot received €350,000 funding for 2019. The special initiative for Travellers has seven locations around Ireland and overall funding for these projects in 2019 is €410,000.

I acknowledge that the report dates from 1995. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Travelling Community.

Our first meeting was attended by cultural Traveller awareness trainees who told us that the 1995 task force report was probably the most progressive piece of analysis on Traveller issues. They made the point that it had not been implemented. I accept that matters have moved on but are we saying that task force report is no longer relevant and that it has been superseded by all other Traveller and Roma inclusion reports? The trainees are concerned because, since the 1995 report, there have been measures such as the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002, which was effectively anti-trespass legislation that made it illegal for Travellers to go on land, as well as other subsequent legislation.

I agree that the task force report was a major accomplishment at the time. It differed from similar reports in preceding decades, which tended to see the issue as one of adapting Travellers to settled norms, and focused instead on the need to make specific provision for Travellers and target their requirements. I fully accept the report. It is the philosophy that continues to guide us today. With respect, however, I do not think that we can go back to 1995. Things have moved on, as the Deputy has acknowledged, and we must take our frame of reference from the present day. Much has happened in the interim. I see the National Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy, NTRIS, as the starting point. I am concerned with how we can progress its actions and whether we can add to or change them. The strategy is a living document. The Traveller community and its representative bodies are very much part of that and are playing a very strong role in making it work.

On housing, an expert group was appointed in 2019 to review the "effectiveness, implementation and operation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, with a view to examining whether it provides a robust legislative basis for meeting the current and future accommodation needs of the Traveller community which takes effective implementation into account in the context of the recognition of Traveller ethnicity in 2017." The report completed by the expert group is currently being reviewed. It was made available to the Minister in September and is under consideration. The report is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Many matters have moved on. Having heard from the Traveller cultural awareness trainees to whom I refer, it seems that the community has gone backwards a great deal over the intervening 24 years. They are concerned about both culture and accommodation. Even when I was a councillor in 2004, over ten years ago, moneys allocated for Traveller accommodation were not used. That is why the 2019 report was commissioned. I am very interested to see that Traveller accommodation report because it will be crucial in progressing Travellers' rights. I do not think things have progressed in the Traveller community in the past 24 years. There is great concern regarding problems with drug use and in the context of accommodation, culture and the survival of the Traveller community. I hope the committee will be able to feed into and support legislation on this.

I share the Deputy's concerns on these matters. I emphasise that the strategy is a living document. NTRIS is an inclusion strategy. It is not an integration strategy. There is a subtle difference. It runs until 2021 and includes 149 recommendations. Cultural identity is a big part of that, along with education, employment, health and accommodation. Those are the most important themes but there are others. I do not know if the Deputy has had the opportunity to review the strategy but I invite her to do so and would be interested in hearing her views. The Traveller organisations were very much involved in drawing up the report and are heavily involved with the monitoring committee. They are having a major impact and we value it greatly. They are very much part of what is happening.

The Deputy mentioned cultural heritage. In July, two elements of Traveller culture were inscribed in Ireland's national inventory of intangible cultural heritage, specifically the Cant-Gammon language and tinsmithing. This is evidence of a Government commitment to protect, promote and celebrate these living cultural heritage practices, customs, crafts and traditions. The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is responsible for the delivery of funding to practices recognised on this list, through its cultural projects funding. The specifics of the allocation of funding however, is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Madigan, and her Department.

I welcome the Deputy's interest in this matter. We are working very hard with the Traveller organisations to progress all the actions in the strategy.

Question No. 9 replied to with Written Answers.