Statement by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in response to recent tragedies at a temporary Traveller halting site at the Glenamuck Road in South Dublin

In June, 2015, the Commission made a presentation to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in which it raised serious concerns regarding access and availability of affordable housing in the State and made specific recommendations to remedy the situation. In addition, the Commission, through its work and contact with individuals, is very conscious of the impact of the housing crisis on families across the State.

The Commission has a statutory role to protect and promote human rights and equality. The Commission’s mandate includes constitutional rights and international human rights standards to which the State has committed itself. In this regard international human rights standards dictate that the State must progressively realise the right of access to adequate housing, and that that right must be realised without discrimination. A recent Supreme Court judgment highlighted the fact that poor quality Traveller accommodation, may not only be a breach of a local authority’s statutory duty, but may in certain circumstances also amount to a breach of the constitutional right to autonomy, bodily integrity and privacy.

Recent events at a halting site in Carrickmines are a shocking illustration of the discriminatory barriers that members of the Traveller community experience in accessing appropriate accommodation, over and above those experienced by the rest of society. Residents had been living with only basic services on the site for over seven years, pending provision of a permanent halting site, and no clear time line was in place for the provision of a permanent halting site to the families. Even in the wake of the huge tragedy that befell the families living on the site on the Glenamuck Road, the initial outpouring of sympathy and support eventually gave way to some sectors of society displaying more negative attitudes to members of the Traveller community, and lacking empathy for the circumstances of that community.

In September 2014, the Chief Commissioner; Ms Emily Logan, wrote to the senior management of all local authorities in the State highlighting the new public sector duty provided for by section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act, 2014, which places a duty on public bodies, including local authorities, to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect human rights, in the performance of their functions. The Commission is concerned that in relation to Traveller accommodation, the number of those living on the roadside and sharing accommodation is increasing year on year, while the level of capital investment in Traveller accommodation accessed through the Department of the Environment is low or non-existent in respect of some local authorities. Although housing legislation allows for the provision of emergency halting sites, these emergency measures are only intended to provide a very basic level of services to members of the Traveller community, pending the provision of permanent accommodation. Basic emergency sites are not intended to become de facto permanent accommodation; however, this is the reality for many Traveller families. The Commission considers that such accommodation cannot, in the long term, vindicate the right to dignity and protection of the person of the individuals concerned.

In light of recent events and mindful of its statutory mandate the Commission is writing to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to discuss the concerns of the Commission as to whether the human rights, and right to equality of treatment, of members of the Traveller community are being properly vindicated in the manner in which the Council is discharging its housing obligations. In particular, the Commission wishes to emphasise the relevance of the new public sector duty as highlighted in its previous correspondence. This will be the first step in a round of engagements with local authorities more generally in relation to the public sector duty.

Notes to Editors

Official figures record that there are presently 3,428 homeless adults in the State, and 1,571 homeless children. The present stock of social housing is inadequate to meet demand. In addition rent supplement payments and housing assistance payments are capped at a level that limits the access of those with housing needs to the private rented market. At the extreme end, families and individuals are being rendered homeless and reliant on emergency accommodation, such as hostels and hotels, which are particularly unsuitable for families and children.

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