The government has been criticized for an “absolutely outrageous” lack of new accommodation for travellers, fearing the lack of spending could impact the health and safety of families.
Numerous reports, including from the Children’s Ombudsman, have described overcrowded and often unsafe conditions at reception sites, and last week another report illustrated the “hidden homelessness” of many members of the travel community in Cork and Kerry.
However, according to a reply to a parliamentary question from Minister of State for Local Government Peter Burke to Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin, no local authority carried out any security work in the last year, either security fire or health and safety.
Only 70 Traveler accommodation projects were carried out by municipalities across the country in 2021.
Figures show just 18 new units at reception sites – including 13 in Galway – and five major renovations to reception sites, as well as 10 major renovations to collective housing.
In addition, there were 15 acquisitions and 16 Covid mobiles supplied, along with two other mobiles, three Caravan Loan Scheme grants and a special grant, described in the answer to the Parliamentary Question (PQ) as €3,810 to be paid to Gens du voyage for the first purchase of a house; or 10% of the cost up to a maximum of €640, to a Traveler family buying a caravan for the first time.
More than half of all local authorities have not committed to any of the above projects, including Cork County Council and Kerry County Council.
Mr Ó Broin said the figures – provided in this format for the first time – showed that over the past two years local authorities had taken the full budget for traveler spending, but that it was likely spent on Covid related measures rather than the long term solutions that many Traveler families need.
“The idea that you would only have a small number of new units or caravan loans is absolutely outrageous, and what it absolutely confirms is that while the money is being spent, what it is not spent, it is the delivery of much-needed new homes,” says Mr. Ó Broin.
He said overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions are “inextricably linked” to health and safety.
In his response, Mr Burke said: “In 2021, the Traveler Accommodation budget delivered new group accommodation, refurbishment of existing hospitality sites and group accommodation, fire safety work on sites and acquisitions (where the acquisition is the solution to a specific identified need).
“A new caravan loan scheme was tested in 2021, the results of which are currently being reviewed.”
However, a table attached to the PQ’s response confirmed that no local authority had carried out any fire or health and safety work. Mr Ó Broin said a senior officer with specific responsibility for the accommodation of travelers is needed.