Accounts of First Council-by-Council Equality Review on Traveller Accommodation in History of State Published - IHREC - Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

Accounts of First Council-by-Council Equality Review on Traveller Accommodation in History of State Published

Reviews Across Local Authorities Recommends Systemic Change

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has today published accounts of equality reviews for Ireland’s local authorities, focused on their provision of Traveller-specific accommodation to Members of the Traveller Community. The accounts are published today with the Commission’s Annual Report, and include specific recommendations for action by local authorities.

With strong evidence of a consistent underspend of the Traveller-specific accommodation budget, the Commission initiated these equality reviews in 2019 to gather information from councils and to allow for a systematic review of the issues driving underspend in in some local authority areas and, therefore, nationally. Between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

The Commission has now made a series of recommendations for local authorities, and has asked councils to report to it by the end of August 2021, specifying the actions taken, or intended within specific timeframes. The Commission will then consider what further action, if any, is necessary.

Some key overarching issues that emerge from these equality reviews:

Underspend in the draw-down of allocated funds:

There is evidence that underspend is being driven by both structural issues in how funding is allocated and drawn down, but also by a frequently inadequate deficient process for identifying actual and future housing needs. Traveller specific accommodation budget provides for renovation and refurbishment work to existing accommodation. Spending may represent renovation or upgrade to existing sites, and not provision of new units of accommodation. Councils highlight difficulties with securing spending approval and reported lack of a multi-annual budget cycle. There are also stated difficulties in agreeing specifics of projects (design of site and type of accommodation) and protracted consultations and discussions with residents, and also the planning process.

Evidence of poor information gathering to inform decision-making

There is evidence that the process for assessing the number of Travellers in a given local authority area varies from council to council, and that the process itself can be deficient in capturing accurate information. Councils typically base current and future needs on social housing applications and the annual estimate of Travellers in their area. There has been no facility for people to identify themselves as members of the Traveller community on the social housing application form. This lack of an ethnic identifier over the period examined has implications for the identification of and inclusion of Travellers within particular housing streams.

Identifying Travellers’ True Accommodation Preference:

Travellers’ true accommodation preference (i.e. Traveller-specific accommodation v. social housing) is not adequately transparent, nor does it appear to have been independently verified over time.  There is a concern that some members of the Traveller community experience a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation, or are exasperated by overcrowding or poor hygiene conditions in such accommodation, and for this reason feel that they have no choice but to apply for social housing.

The Commission’s analysis of the detailed equality reviews also identifies other specific and systemic issues of concern:

On culture and identity

  • Recognition of Traveller Ethnicity: There is a lack of evidence of a full appreciation of the practical implications of cultural difference when providing services and engagement with the Traveller community. For example, there is evidence of insufficient appreciation of the cultural significance of horse ownership when delivering Traveller-specific accommodation services.
  • Nomadism: There is little evidence of assessment of need in relation to Traveller nomadism within and through counties or the nature of such nomadism currently pursued.
  • Caravan loan scheme: Twenty-two local authorities make no reference to the Caravan Loan Scheme, which facilitates the purchase of caravans for those Travellers who wish to live on halting sites.

On mainstream provision:

  • Traveller-specific barriers to accessing accommodation: the lack of suitably sized units for many larger Traveller families is highlighted. Online application systems can result in digital exclusion given poor internet access and low levels of digital literacy;
  • No real analysis of Travellers’ perspective in private rental market: No local authorities report specific steps taken to track Traveller experience of private rented accommodation or to identify and respond to the particular issue of discrimination against Travellers in this sector.
  • Homeless Services: Many local authorities reference numbers of Traveller families on roadside sites, in overcrowded settings, or availing of emergency accommodation. There is little analysis of the reasons for this growth, the particular experience of homelessness of Travellers, or the implications of Traveller culture and identity for an effective response.
  • Staff training: There is little information on the training provided, or the equality and human rights standards set for roles identified as dedicated to work exclusively with Travellers.
  • Travellers with Disabilities: It is unclear to what extent Travellers are included in local authority housing strategies for people with disabilities.
  • ‘Indigenous requirements’: Twelve local authorities set out ‘indigenous requirements’, for Travellers to be able to avail of social housing supports and/or Traveller-specific accommodation. The Commission has identified the need for these local authorities to review this requirement to ensure that there is no discrimination when compared to the requirements on the wider community in access to social housing.

While the Commission welcomes the full budget provision for Traveller accommodation has been drawn down by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHPLG) in 2020, the Commission urges the Department to build on the flexibilities implemented in relation to Traveller accommodation policy over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission also notes the new Government procedures for the drawdown of funds, introduced in 2020 by administrative circular.  It will be necessary to assess over the coming years whether these procedures improve the rate of draw down for Traveller-specific accommodation.

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission stated:

“The State’s provision of Traveller accommodation has drawn widespread international condemnation including from the UN, the Fundamental Rights Agency of the EU and the Council of Europe. The last 12 months alone have been marked by regular and disturbing reports and testimony on Traveller accommodation, and the Commission’s own legal casework has shown the appalling conditions in which many Traveller families are forced to live. 

“The Commission through these equality reviews requested Councils to examine and equality-proof their system for the provision of culturally appropriate Traveller-specific accommodation, and to examine what the barriers are to the drawdown of State funding and how they can be removed.

“Equality reviews allow us to seek specific answers on issues such as local authorities’ underspend, but equality law can also help bring about practical solutions. The Commission has made recommendations, specific to Council’s individual equality review, on how they can use an equality based approach to improve service delivery.”

ENDS

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Notes to editor:

The Commission’s accounts of the Local Authority Equality Reviews on Provision of Traveller-Specific Accommodation are published on the Commission’s website here.

Equality Reviews

Section 32 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality 2014 Act gives the Commission statutory powers in relation to the carrying out of equality reviews and the preparation of Equality Action Plans. An equality review or equality action plan may relate to equality of opportunity generally, or a particular aspect of discrimination, within an organisation or organisations (public or private sector). They are requested to carry out equality reviews and the focus of the reviews are a matter within the discretion of the Commission, having regard to its areas of focused work and its strategic priorities.

In non-legal terms equality reviews are a means for an organisation (here a local authority) to benchmark, or audit, its practices (here the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation) against its obligations under equality law in order to assess whether the organisation, as a service provider, is fulfilling its statutory obligations to ensure equality of opportunity, or an absence of discrimination.

The local authority equality review accounts comprise of three sections, namely:

  1. Key areas of interest – which is a synopsis of the equality review undertaken and the information provided by the local authority;
  2. Issues arising – which comprises the Commission’s analysis of the equality review; and
  3. Recommendations – proposed recommendations from the Commission to local authorities having regard to their individual responses.

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

 

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