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Housing body criticised in damning report on Traveller accommodation

Annmaire McKee from CRJ with the report, Out of Sight Out of Mind Annmaire McKee from CRJ with the report, Out of Sight Out of Mind
By Brónach Ní Thuama

A NEW report into Travellers’ accommodation says there is a serious lack of adequate facilities for members of the Travelling community – many of whom live in West Belfast.

The Human Rights Commission published their report ‘Out Of Sight Out Of Mind’ on Tuesday and made 45 recommendations in order to tackle the issues raised.

Welcoming the report Annmarie McKee, coordinator of the West Belfast-based Travellers Project with CRJ, said people need to be educated when it comes to Travellers, while Travellers need to be educated on their rights.

“Let’s work together, it’s essential that all the relevant bodies – be they the Housing Executive, housing associations, agencies and statutory bodies – hold up their side of the bargain.

“This report highlighted the housing needs of the Travelling community but it goes much deeper than that, the lack of mental health provision for men especially, within the Travelling community is frightening.

“At the minute the Travelling community don’t have a voice. Since May last year I have dealt with 96 cases involving the Travelling community, it’s up to us all to work together to ensure their needs are met.”

One Traveller interviewed criticised the Housing Executive for putting the family into housing.

“For example, my father got very badly depressed. We were brought up in a caravan. My father was working all his life. Not in an office, I mean working at scrap, at cars, at everything. When we moved into houses he had… nothing to do… He couldn’t put cars outside the front door of a house, the neighbours complain… He got depressed… he took his own life.”

In the report Les Allamby, chief commissioner, said: “The inexorable impact of public policy has been to leave many Travellers with an unpalatable choice of retaining their culture while living in poor housing conditions or move into social housing. While for some Travellers, social housing is their choice of accommodation, for others it is not.

“Traveller culture is rich and vibrant and should be nurtured, rather than eroded through housing and other policies.”

Throughout the course of the 28-page report the NI Housing Executive come in for heavy criticism including provision of Traveller-specific accommodation.

A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said: “The Housing Executive will now consider and take on board the findings of the NI Human Rights Commission’s report on Irish Traveller accommodation. We note that we are already implementing many of the actions which are included in the Commission’s recommendations.

“As recommended in the report, we agree that increased participation and consultation with the Irish Traveller community is needed and in terms of the accommodation requirements of the Irish Traveller community, we are completing a needs assessment and will consult with the Irish Travellers and the wider community on housing need/preferences and land availability.

“Health and safety checks have already been undertaken by the Housing Executive in June 2017 on all sites and all necessary work is now complete.

“We have also recently appointed an advisor to carry out a condition survey of Housing Executive owned Irish Traveller sites to determine works needed. The survey will take into account fire safety, health and safety issues, site guidelines and planning issues. This will help inform a programme of works to ensure that they meet Council requirements for the issue of site licences.

“Our research over the past two decades has indicated that Irish Traveller families wish to live in a range of housing accommodation types: conventional housing, either in existing social housing estates, or in group housing schemes and serviced and transit sites which are all designed to cater for Travellers’ culture and their desire to live together in extended family groups. Therefore, we have ensured that a wide range of accommodation options are available for the Traveller community.”

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