CORK City Council has outlined its housing provisions for the Traveller community following a claim that Travellers are facing “third world” conditions by a local housing advocate.
Travellers are finding it nearly impossible to get rented accommodation from private landlords, according to the spokesperson for the Cork Traveller Visibility Group (CTVG), Breda O’Donoghue.
The recent launch of an online position paper called Traveller Homelessness: a Hidden Crisis, attended by Fr Peter McVerry and Senator Senator Eileen Flynn, laid bare the full scale of the housing crisis facing Travellers.
The crisis has just escalated a pre-existing problem for Travellers, said Ms O’Donoghue. “There are very high levels of racism and discrimination in relation to Travellers trying to rent in the private sector,” she said.
Severe overcrowding has resulted from the shortage of Traveller accommodation being provided over the last 30 years, said Ms O’Donoghue.
“The situation on the ground is dire at the minute.”
If a person comes seeking housing, CVTG will refer them to the Homeless Section of the local authority.
“There is a Traveller Accommodation Unit within the local authority that deals with every Traveller in the city,” said Ms O’Donoghue.
“Unfortunately, because of the shortage of stock on the local authority list, and also the shortage of Traveller accommodation, people have very little choice but to end up in the Homeless Section.”
The online event highlighted those not on any list: those camping behind their parents’ homes, or families ‘couch surfing’ with friends and relatives.
Young Travellers in particular, newly weds, and older Travellers who once lived on the side of a road but for whom that option is no longer available, often find themselves not included on any local authority housing list.
Ms O’Donoghue said that despite Government funding, there is still a widespread lack of Traveller accommodation. The seminar was a call on the Government to examine setting up a separate housing body for Travellers.
Ms O’Donoghue described the conditions for Travellers in Cork as “third world.”
“Some of our sites are old now. One site in the north side of Cork city probably has over 50 families living on a site that was officially for ten families,” she said.
Spring Lane, in Ballyvolane, has seen “severe overcrowding, and a lack of management of the site over the years that has led to the condition that it is in right now,” she said.
A report last year from the Children’s Ombudsman, showed that children living in Spring Lane had complained about the conditions there.
“We are working with the local authority at the minute for plans to alleviate the pressures up there in the short term, and also to look at long terms plans in relation to providing better Traveller accommodation,” she said.
Ms O’Donoghue said she knew of some families that lack access to running water, electricity, and proper sanitation.
“It’s not just locally, it’s right across the country.”
Cork City Council stated that it is committed to improving the conditions for the Traveller community.
In relation to the Spring Lane Site, “Cork City Council has delivered a significant programme of improvement works to this site which includes items such drainage improvements, new water and wastewater connections, resurfacing of bays, provision of welfare containers, provision of replacement mobile homes, construction of bays and repairs to walls at various points throughout the site as well as general maintenance,” said a council spokesperson.
“A school walkway was recently completed and is due to open shortly which will provide safe access from the site to local schools and amenities and further works are scheduled to be rolled out in early 2023 which includes an electrical upgrade to the site as well as a provision of welfare containers which will be delivered in early 2023.
“A full programme of works for 2023 is currently being finalised and this will be communicated with residents and with Traveller Advocacy Groups, including the Cork Traveller Visibility Group (CTVG), as part of programmed consultation meetings. Long term plans are also being progressed with each family on site to determine and deliver their preferred permanent traveller specific or standard housing solution.
“Through the Traveller Accommodation Unit (TAU) the City Council works tirelessly with the Traveller community across the City to improve current conditions and to move families into permanent secure accommodation where so desired.
“All sites operated by Cork City Council have basic services such as electricity, water, sewerage as well as access to waste collection. Through Housing Operations and the dedicated Traveller Accommodation Unit (TAU) the City Council works directly with all Traveller families who express an interest in permanent standard housing accommodation in the city.
“Twice weekly in person clinics are available through the TAU where families and interested persons are helped to complete and update housing applications, discuss needs and issues and outline and explain the allocations process via the Choice Based Letting System.
“The TAU are also available via phone and email on a daily basis to discuss individual cases as they arise and advocate for families as appropriate. During 2022 a total of 32 offers of standard accommodation were made to Travellers across the City.
“In terms of the younger Travellers, a nationwide pilot Caravan Loan scheme ran in 2022 to meet the accommodation needs of families who wished to avail of this scheme. As per the funding allocated through central government 10 successful applications were made. Most applicants under this scheme were young growing families who require accommodation and had an interest in mobile home accommodation,” added the Council spokesperson.