WATCH: Traveller Accommodation and the Right to Housing

Last week during statements on Traveller accommodation I highlighted the struggles that the residents of Labre Park in my constituency have gone through. We need to enshrine a right to housing in the constitution to ensure that all our citizens have proper legal basis for human dignity in accommodation.

Full speech transcript:

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. We are discussing a very important issue that can be cut down to essential human rights and human dignity. Travellers in Ireland suffer through the intersection of poverty, social exclusion, poor access to education, poor health outcomes, high levels of homelessness and higher levels of mental health difficulties and suicide. All of these interact with each other in very difficult and complex ways, creating huge problems for the community. We must acknowledge the role of this House in contributing to the problem and not providing enough solutions. Ultimately, what is at the root of many of these issues is poor accommodation and the failure to provide proper accommodation as a basic human right. Proper accommodation is the basic standard above which other issues and concerns can be addressed by an active community looking to better itself, which is what the Traveller community is doing.

Earlier this week a number of Traveller representatives contributed to a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community. They spoke with passion about the injustices faced in the context of accommodation. These issues are well known. Several years ago “RTÉ Investigates” highlighted the fact that the Traveller community represents 1% of the population of Ireland but 8% of homeless adults and 12% of homeless children. A more recent figure from Pavee Point in 2019 indicates that 13.5% of Travellers are effectively homeless. We are continually failing to meet the basic needs of the Traveller community, which impacts on the other things I mentioned like poverty, higher rates of suicide and a disturbingly low life expectancy. All of these things combine but this is not a new problem.

As other Deputies said, we have seen numerous reports over the years highlighting the struggles of this community.

Yet here we are with many Deputies still talking about the struggles of this community. If one takes the years from 2008 to 2019, €72 million in funding to provide Traveller accommodation was unspent. The effect of that is that the families all these Deputies have been talking about and the children who Deputy Cian O’Callaghan quoted are still living in those dire conditions.

One of the things I want to talk about is my constituency. In Labre Park in my constituency we have seen a long struggle by the community there for redevelopment. Time and again its hopes are dashed and delays are put in place. The community there is still fighting for the redevelopment. It is fighting against cramped and overcrowded conditions. The Dublin Inquirer reported that there was one woman who shares a caravan with ten members of her extended family. These are cramped and overcrowded conditions. Since 2016, when funding was initially promised, little has happened.

While that is one specific issue within my constituency, we also need to pull out to a broader issue. One of the things in my head are the words of the judge when the O’Reilly family in Limerick brought the State to court on the provision of proper accommodation. They felt they had a right to housing and they were seeking to have that right vindicated. The judge in the case felt there was no right to housing in the Constitution and told the family they were better off seeking a solution in Leinster House than in the courts. Here we are in Leinster House and it is up to us to provide the solution.

One of the things I welcome is the inclusion in the programme for Government of a referendum on a right to housing. This was something the Green Party had campaigned on and something we pushed during the negotiations. I am glad to see our partners in government taking it on and supporting it. We need to ensure there is a right to housing inserted into Bunreacht na hÉireann so that families that have been abandoned by the State, such as those members of the Travelling community living in these cramped and overcrowded conditions, about whom Deputy after Deputy has talked and about whom representatives of the community have lobbied and campaigned against, have another route to seek vindication of what should be a basic human right. This is a basic need to address the multifaceted problems we have all been talking about and dealing with in the Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community.

I welcome the work that is being done. I welcome the fact that we have a programme board on the expert review group on Traveller accommodation. I would urge that work is expedited so that we can make up for lost time, not just due to Covid but due to the years and years of underinvestment in this area where it is much needed. I thank the Minister of State for his time.