Investigation of Travellers’ Accommodation

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The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has today announced that it is investigating the issue of Travellers Accommodation. The Commission completed a scoping exercise in June 2016 which identified significant human rights concerns on a potentially systemic level. On the basis of that exercise it concluded that a human rights examination of this issue is necessary. The Commission will publish its findings in the autumn of 2017.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We know that research has shown that a quarter of Travellers residing in Northern Ireland have reported their place of residence to be unhealthy or very unhealthy, and many have also concerns about safety. A lack of footpaths, public lighting, fire hydrants, play areas, plumbing, washing facilities, electricity and refuse management are just some of the issues described. A Housing Executive needs assessment has also outlined the need for appropriate accommodation for Travellers.

The Northern Ireland Executive and other public authorities are required by human rights law to fulfill the right to adequate housing and must ensure non-discrimination. Examining these aspects in relation to Travellers accommodation will be the principal focus of the Commission’s investigation.”

Fieldwork will take place throughout Northern Ireland between October and December 2016. The Commission has sent notification seeking access to information from public authorities including the Department for Infrastructure, the Department for Communities, Local Councils and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Planning Appeals Commission. In addition, members of the Travelling Community and those delivering support services will be asked for their assistance.

If you have any query or would like to participate in the investigation, please contact the Commission’s investigation team on info@nihrc.org or on 02890243987.

ENDS

For further information please contact: Claire Martin or 02890 243987 or on claire.martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

1. Read the full terms of reference for the investigation here.

2. The Investigation will focus on a number of areas in respect of Traveller accommodation in line with standards outlined in international human rights law:

• Legal Security of tenure: whether Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland respects human rights standards in respect of security of tenure and protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats;

• Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: whether Traveller accommodation includes access to services essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition. These include sanitation, safe drinking water, washing facilities, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services;

• Affordability: whether Traveller accommodation costs are at a financial level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised;

• Habitability: whether Traveller accommodation is habitable and provides physical safety and protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards and disease vectors;

• Accessibility: whether Traveller accommodation is fully and sustainably accessible without discrimination to those entitled to it and takes into account housing needs;

• Location: whether Traveller accommodation is free from pollution and allows access to employment options, healthcare, schools and childcare centres and other social centres; and

• Cultural Adequacy: whether Traveller accommodation in its construction, building materials and the policies supporting these enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing.

• Participation: whether Travellers have been extensively and genuinely consulted on the provision of Traveller accommodation. This includes involving the Traveller community, associations and representations at the earliest stages in the development and implementation of the policies and programmes affecting them. There also must be sufficient transparency about policies and programmes related to Traveller accommodation.

• Remedy: whether Travellers have an effective remedy regarding decisions in relation to accommodation.

• Monitoring: whether effective monitoring of the situation with respect to Traveller accommodation taken place. This includes whether appropriate indicators and benchmarks are used and appropriately disaggregated.

3. Press Statement Research References: Safa Abdella et al, ‘Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study’ (UCD, 2010), at 46; NICEM, ‘The Annual Human Rights and Racial Equality Benchmarking Report 2013/14’ (OFMDFM, 2014), at 96: A quarter of Traveller respondents residing in Northern Ireland consider their place of residence to be unhealthy or very unhealthy, with 29 percent describing their residence as unsafe.

4. For the purposes of this investigation ‘Travellers’ are defined as members of the Irish Traveller community, a “community of people commonly so called who are identified (both by themselves and by others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland”.

5. The right to an adequate standard of living:

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No 4: The Right to Adequate Housing’, 13 December 1991, at para 8: Fulfilling each person’s right to adequate housing in Northern Ireland requires the Northern Ireland Executive and other relevant public authorities to ensure “legal security of tenure”, “availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure”, “affordability’, “habitability”, “accessibility” and “cultural adequacy”. Broadly defined, the right to adequate housing is “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.

6. The Commission completed a scoping exercise in June 2016; taking into account completed work on Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland. The scoping exercise identified significant human rights concerns on a potentially systemic level. On the basis of that exercise, we concluded that a human rights examination of this issue is necessary.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


06 Sep 2016