Opening address by Minister Damien English
to The Irish Traveller Movement Annual Conference

Wednesday 12th September 2018, The Ardilaun Hotel, Galway

Damien English opening the Irish Traveller Movement Annual Conference 2018

Damien English opening the Irish Traveller Movement Annual Conference 2018

Check against delivery

It is a pleasure to be here with you today to address the Annual Conference of the Irish Traveller Movement and I would like to thank ITM for the invitation to make the opening address.   I consider it is timely to address you today as I believe there are number of issues of mutual interest that deserve attention and discussion going forward.

At the time of its enactment the Housing (Traveller) Accommodation Act of 1998 represented a major step forward in how Traveller Accommodation needs were met.   It led to the establishment of the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee which is independently chaired by Professor Eoin O’Sullivan with representation from a number of key stakeholder groups, including Traveller representative groups, the local authorities, Council members, the Department of Justice and Equality and indeed my own Departments.

Since I took up office the NTACC has been of tremendous value to me, advising me on matters of national importance in the area of Traveller Accommodation. The Irish Traveller Movement is of course one of the Traveller Groups represented on the NTACC and has played a very active role on the committee.  My own Department works closely with the ITM on the delivery of Traveller Accommodation and I want to acknowledge the very positive engagement we encounter from the ITM officials.

The Traveller Accommodation Act also placed obligations on local authorities to establish and consult with Local Traveller Consultative Committees (LTACCs) on traveller accommodation needs.  The LTACCs have a very important role to play in advising in relation to the preparation and implementation of local authority Traveller Accommodations programmes and provide a for engagement between the Traveller community and local authority members and officials.

“I am committed, as Minister of State at the Department, to trying to increase funding available for Traveller-specific accommodation, but we need to look at the reasons why budget allocations are not being fully expended and how we can we find ways to improve delivery.”

Over recent months the NTACC has been engaging with LTACCs at regional meetings to develop an understanding of how the local committees are operating.   I understand from these meetings that while some LTACCs are working well unfortunately others are not functioning.   This is of concern to me and I will be meeting with the NTACC to discuss this further when it has concluded its round of regional meetings.

As we are all aware, there is need for greater delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation.  It is major concern to me that my own Department has not expended its budget in this in recent years, particularly given the demand for accommodation from the Traveller community.  Over the past ten years, from 2008 to 2017, my Department has recouped in excess of €105 million to local authorities from a capital budget of €156.8 million. This represents a 67% drawdown on capital funding by local authorities collectively.

Capital funding of €12 million has been provided by my Department for Traveller-specific accommodation in 2018, which is an increase of €3 million on the 2017 allocation, and a similar increase on the 2016 allocation.  The budget allocation has increased gradually over the past number of years.

I am committed, as Minister of State at the Department, to trying to increase funding available for Traveller-specific accommodation, but we need to look at the reasons why budget allocations are not being fully expended and how we can we find ways to improve delivery.

It is against this background that Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s action plan on housing and homelessness, committed the Housing Agency to undertake an expert, independent review of capital and current funding for Traveller-specific accommodation. This review had regard to targets contained in the local au­thority Traveller accommodation programmes and units delivered, the status of accom­modation funded and funding provided for accommodation maintenance and other supports. The purpose was to provide factual information, analysis and identification of particular challenges, as a key platform to undertake an audit of implementation and delivery of the TAPs with a focus on appropriate supply of accommodation.

The Housing Agency submitted its report to my Department in June 2017 with the report subsequently considered by the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee.  The NTACC recom­mended that I establish an Expert Group, independent from the NTACC and my Department, to review the Traveller Accommodation Act 1998 and all other legislation that impacts on the provision and delivery of accommodation for Travellers.

I fully supported the NTACC recommendation as I believe that fresh thinking and new approaches are very much needed.

I am pleased that I am in a position to announce today the membership of that Expert Group.  I have appointed three members to the Group,   Professor Michelle Norris, Head of Social Policy at UCD; Mr. David Joyce of Mercy Resource Law Centre and Dr. Conor Norton, Head of School at DIT.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to meet with the members of the Expert Group.  At that meeting I expressed my concerns as to the delivery of Traveller Accommodation and the under spend in budget allocations in recent years.  I also expressed my belief that an examination, by independent experts, offered the opportunity to examine how we can achieve better results in this area.

The terms of reference of the Expert Group stipulate that wide consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including Traveller representative groups such as the Irish Traveller Movement.  I would urge you to proactively engage with the Expert Group.  It is an opportunity for you to bring forward your proposals and the ways that you believe would achieve better results for the Travelling community that you represent.

The current five-year Traveller Accommodation Programmes are coming to an end this year.  These programmes provide a road map for local authority investment priorities over the period.  They also form the basis for the allocation of funding from my Department for Traveller-specific accommodation.  With preparations well underway for the next round of Traveller Accommodation Programmes which will run for the period from 2019 to 2024 it is timely that this independent review is being undertaken.

I look forward to the report arising from the Expert Group’s work which should provide an insight into issues while also providing a platform for a future plan for the delivery of safe and culturally appropriate accommodation. I will ensure that the Department consider any recommendations made by the Expert Group to improve the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally and to ensure that full use is made of the increasing level of funding available for investment in Traveller accommodation.

To conclude I would like to thank you again for inviting me here today to address you at your annual conference.  I look forward to working with you and all relevant stakeholders, as we work to achieve the same aim – the delivery of safe and culturally appropriate accommodation for the Travelling community.

Thank you.