NIHRC launches report: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”: Travellers’ Accommodation in NI

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“Out of Sight, Out of Mind”: Travellers’ Accommodation in NI

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has published its investigation into Travellers’ accommodation today. This is the first major report on the subject in Northern Ireland for almost a decade. The Commission has identified 13 systematic concerns and made 45 recommendations.

Opening the event at Belfast City Hall, Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister said:

We welcome this report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and are pleased to host the launch at Belfast City Hall today. Traveller culture should be recognised and protected by public bodies and everyone in Northern Ireland. We live in a shared space and it is important that human rights are upheld and respected. The report will now be fully considered by the Council.”

Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“Travellers face the unpalatable choice of living in poor conditions to retain their culture or moving into standard social housing at the expense of their way of life. We have found examples of inadequate facilities such as washing units not fit for purpose in the Northern Ireland climate, fire and other health and safety issues that need to be remedied. The Commission is concerned that legislation, policy and a lack of service provision amounts to an attitude of ‘out of sight out of mind.

“The report is directed at key Northern Ireland government departments who have a responsibility to provide a decent standard of living for everyone in Northern Ireland. It also makes recommendations to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive in order to improve the management of Travellers’ accommodation and local Councils to prevent unnecessary delays in dealing with planning applications. The Commission has found an erosion of nomadic life through the policies and practices that have been developed and applied to Travellers and Travellers’ accommodation. This needs to change.”

A Traveller interviewed during the course of the investigation commented on the cultural adequacy of Travellers’ accommodation:

“all Travellers are square pegs and [the public authorities] are trying to place them into round holes”

Another Traveller commented on the isolation they faced through moving into bricks and mortar:

there’s nothing to do… You walk out the door of a caravan everybody’s there, but you walk out the door of a house and there’s nobody there”.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby added:

“We would like to thank the Traveller communities in Northern Ireland for assisting the Commission with this investigation. We also would like to thank all the public authorities for co-operating and commend the Traveller support groups for their ongoing work. Over the next 12 months we will implement an extensive follow up plan with the key public authorities alongside, Travellers and Traveller support organisations to push forward the changes that are now required to improve the situation and protect human rights”.

The investigation identified 13 systemic issues these include:

Inadequacy of Travellers’ Sites

Some Travellers’ sites are inadequate in the provision of standard services and facilities (electricity, water, heating, drainage, sanitation, waste disposal). This is particularly true of Travellers’ sites intended as transient in nature, but that are operating as permanent sites in practice. The lack of effective management of Travellers’ sites exacerbates these problems.

Legal Framework

Domestic laws and policies regarding Travellers’ accommodation in NI largely satisfy human rights requirements. However, the existence of the Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005 has a disproportionate impact on the Traveller communities and threatens their nomadic culture.

Racial Discrimination

There is evidence that Travellers have been subject to discriminatory behaviours and attitudes from public authorities and the settled community. This emerges through actions, but also through inaction and general inertia regarding Travellers’ issues. Negative public opinions and bias towards Travellers also impacts negatively on Travellers, in particular concerning planning applications.

Provision of Traveller-specific Accommodation

There is insufficient culturally adequate Travellers’ accommodation available. In particular, the NI Housing Executive is failing to provide sufficient adequate Travellers’ sites. Its actions and inaction suggest a preference for developing and maintaining bricks and mortar accommodation, over Travellers’ sites.

Resource Availability

While the NI Housing Executive maintains it is satisfied with the resources available to it for developing and maintaining Traveller-specific accommodation, the existing accommodation is insufficient to the need. In addition, spend per pitch has been reducing on an annual basis.

Resource and Policy Accountability

The Department for Communities allocates funding to the NI Housing Executive, but there is no robust mechanism in place for the Department to monitor how funding is allocated to Travellers’ accommodation and what outcomes are being achieved.

Participation

Efforts to ensure the participation of Travellers in decision-making processes regarding accommodation by public authorities are ineffective and inadequate. There is a lack of emphasis on supporting Traveller advocates. There is also a heavy burden placed on Traveller support groups by public authorities, in terms of the roles they are expected to fulfil. These groups are also under-resourced for both their contracted role and remuneration for the additional uncontracted assistance sought by public authorities.

ENDS

For further information:

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 07717731873 or 02890 243987 or on claire.martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

1. The first launch of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s investigation “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Travellers’ Accommodation in NI” will take place on Tuesday 6 March from 12-2pm 2018 at Belfast City Hall. A second launch will take place in Derry/Londonderry on Monday 12 March 2018. All media are welcome.

11:30
Registration
12:00
Welcome by Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
12:05
Opening by The Lord Mayor, Councillor Nuala McAllister
12:15
Musical Performance by William Dundon and David Muldrew
12:30
Introduction to the Report, Les Allamby
12:35
Methodology of the Investigation Report, Dr Hannah Russell, Policy and Research Officer
12:50
Findings and Recommendations, Les Allamby
1:05
Q & A
1:25
Close
1:30
Lunch

2. Access full report and Executive summary at www.nihrc.org

3. In addition to identifying systemic issues the report also makes 45 practical recommendations for change, 5 are identified as requiring immediate action:

Cultural Adequacy of Travellers Accommodation: the NI Housing Executive and relevant housing associations should urgently review their existing practices and policies to ensure there is sufficient practical support for Travellers transitioning from Travellers’ sites to bricks and mortar accommodation. For example, ensuring that Travellers transitioning know and understand the process for accessing electricity and heating, and the process for paying household bills.

Health and Safety: Hazards The NI Housing Executive should immediately carry out health and safety assessments of all Travellers’ sites and address the hazards identified. In addressing these hazards, the NI Housing Executive should ensure that washhouses on Travellers’ sites are safe, fit for purpose and appropriate for NI’s climate. The NI Housing Executive should conduct regular health and safety assessments of all Travellers’ sites and ensure any identified hazards are adequately and promptly addressed in the future.

Health and Safety: Hazards The NI Housing Executive and relevant housing associations should ensure that adequate fire safety measures are in place and are adhered to within all Travellers’ accommodation. This includes ensuring that all fire safety measures are functional, regularly checked and reviewed. In addition, they should ensure that all tenants within Travellers’ accommodation are sufficiently aware of the fire safety measures in place and of actions to be taken in the event of a fire.

Legal Security of Tenure The NI Housing Executive and relevant housing associations should take immediate steps to ensure that Travellers on all types of Travellers’ sites are provided with and sign an agreement attached to their pitch, clearly setting out their rights and responsibilities in an understandable language and format.

Availability of Facilities The NI Housing Executive should ensure that it submits a completed application for a site licence for all Travellers’ sites currently operating unlicensed within six months of the publication of this report. The NI Housing Executive should continue to be required to obtain a site licence for Travellers’ sites in NI.

4. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched the investigation in NI on September 2016. The investigation considered Travellers’ accommodation across NI and also adopted a case study approach in four local Council areas:

1. Belfast (Belfast City Council);

2. Craigavon and Armagh (Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon District Council);

3. Derry/Londonderry and Strabane (Derry City and Strabane District Council); and

4. Dungannon and Coalisland (Mid Ulster District Council).

5. The investigation involved gathering written and oral evidence from

· Traveller communities in NI 38 members of the Traveller communities in Northern Ireland were interviewed. The Commission conducted observational visits to all of the Traveller-specific accommodation locations (serviced sites, transit sites, emergency halting site, cooperated site and grouped housing) within the four Council areas adopted as case studies. It also conducted an observational visit in April 2017 to two Traveller sites’ in Dublin, for the purposes of exploring good practice.

· 12 relevant public authorities. These were Department for Communities; Department for Infrastructure; NI Housing Executive; Apex Housing Association; Clanmil Housing Association; Radius Housing Association (formerly Fold Housing Association); Belfast City Council; Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council; Derry City and Strabane District Council; Mid Ulster District Council; Equality Commission NI; and Police Service NI. The Commission also liaised with the NI Local Government Partnership on Travellers Issues and the NI Public Service Ombudsman.

· Eight civil society organisations These were An Munia Tober; Craigavon Travellers Support Committee; Housing Rights; Pavee Point; Participation and Practice of Rights; South Tyrone Empowerment Programme; Armagh Travellers Support Group; and Toybox.

6. Why did the Commission begin an investigation into Traveller Accommodation?

The Commission initiated the investigation following a scoping exercise in June 2016 that identified issues, which required further examination. These included:

· a shortage of adequate stopping sites for Roma/Gypsies and Irish Travellers

· a lack of social housing forcing households to move into the private rental sector

· a requirement for the NI Housing Executive to obtain site licences from local Councils for Travellers’ sites

· a disparity between official figures on the Traveller population in NI;

· the existence of the Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005

· the general inadequacy of Travellers’ accommodation and

· the lack of authoritative human rights analysis of Travellers’ accommodation in NI

7. Who are Travellers?

For the purposes of this investigation, ‘Traveller’ is used as an umbrella term for any member of a traditional Gypsy or Traveller community living in or travelling through NI with a long-shared history, culture and traditions that includes identifying with or continuing to practice a nomadic way of life.

8. Statistics- Lack of data

Irish Travellers are a minority native to the island of Ireland and according to the 2011 census represent 0.07 percent (ie 1,267 individuals) of the population in NI. This may be an under-representation in that there are members of other Gypsy and Traveller communities (such as Romany Gypsy and Gypsies or Travellers from England, Scotland or Wales) that live in or travel through NI, but official statistics are lacking. The NI Housing Executive recorded that between 2002 and 2014, the wider Traveller population in NI fluctuated between 1,228 and 1,486. The All-Ireland Traveller Health Survey in 2010 concluded, based on its own statistical research that at least 3,905 Travellers resided in NI.

9. What is Travellers Accommodation?

For the purposes of this investigation, ‘Travellers’ accommodation’ is any form of housing inhabited by members of the Traveller communities. This working definition includes grouped housing; Travellers’ sites (serviced, serviced/transit, transit, emergency halting, co-operated and unauthorised); standard social housing; and private rented properties.

10. Who is responsible?

The provision and regulation of social housing in Northern Ireland and the regulation of private housing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, ultimate responsibility lies with the Northern Ireland Executive. Implementing human rights laws and standards relevant to Travellers’ accommodation is a responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and relevant public authorities.

11. Human Rights Law and Standards

The main United Nations human rights treaty that relates to Travellers’ accommodation is the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), particularly Article 11, the right to an adequate standard of living. Broadly defined, the right to adequate housing is “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.

12. Read the full terms of reference for the investigation on the Commission’s website: www.nihrc.org

13. 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 Mar 2018