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Asbestos dumped on halting site was not removed for over four months

The National Traveller Partnership has said that Local Authorities have a “poor track record” in helping Travellers and should not be in charge of their finances.

Martin Collins (File photo)
Martin Collins (File photo)
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE POOR TRACK record of Local Authorities in aiding the Travelling Community proves that Traveller organisations need to remain independent.

That’s the view of representatives from groups that gathered in Dublin today, calling on Environment Minister Phil Hogan to facilitate their continuing independence.

Catherine Joyce, project coordinator of a local Traveller group in Blanchardstown, said that the proposal to align the community development work done by such groups with local government is not in the best interests of people on the ground.

Joyce noted the “poor track record” of local authorities in dealing with the needs of the Travelling community.

She cited one incident last year where it took over four months for asbestos that was dumped at a halting site at Cappagh Field in Finglas to be moved.

“It took them forever to get it moved, despite the well-known dangers in relation to asbestos,” Joyce said, adding she believed it was dumped by an individual or business who had recently carried out renovations on their property.

Joyce stressed that the National Traveller Partnership, a collective that represents a number of organisations, should continue to oversee national funding.

The NTP is calling on the Minister to ensure that the critical work with Travellers continues. We would argue that bringing work with Traveller directly or indirectly under the auspices of local authorises would be a very negative move for Travellers in Ireland.

“We want to see the current situation whereby the Department provides funding to the NTP to disburse amongst the local projects continue. This measure would demonstrate governments commitment to safeguarding Travellers human rights and the protection of local Traveller independent structures,” Joyce said.

The Traveller community represents .6% of the population. Life expectancy within the group is considerably shorter while suicide rates are seven higher than those in the settled community. Joyce noted that unemployment and education issues also impact Travellers to a greater extent.

Budget cutbacks

In 2008, Traveller programmes throughout Ireland received €259,000 from the Local Community Development Programme. This figure dropped to €94,200 last year.

In recent years, the community’s education funding has been cut by 86.6%, their accommodation budget by 85% and health budget by 5.4%. Joyce said it was unfair that Travellers were being disproportionately targeted by cutbacks.

“It absolutely would not be accepted in any other sector of society,” she noted.

As Traveller organisations we don’t have to justify our existence, we don’t have to spell out what we do.

Joyce went on to describe such groups as “a valuable asset to the State”.

She said she was “not so confident” about Hogan taking on board what they said but added: “I do hope that whatever Minister takes over … will take it into serious consideration.”

Fianna Fáil’s Eamon Ó Cuív said that Traveller groups should make sure that Labour knows further cutbacks to the community are “a red line issue” ahead of negotiations on the Programme for Government with Fine Gael once the party’s new leader is elected this week.

Labour TD Robert Dowds said he could not stay for the entire press conference but would study the information packs provided in detail.

Letter

In a letter given to Minister Hogan today, the NTP notes how “many local authorities have consistently failed to deliver” in areas such as Traveller accommodation and health.

Martin Collins, NTP Chairperson, noted that “the retention of the local Traveller organisation affords the State and Traveller community an independent voice to represent the interests and needs of the community while at the same time informing policy development and opportunity for collaborative working at a local levels on issues affecting the community in urban and rural settings”.

“Up until now, the NTP received funding from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government to disburse to the 14 local Traveller projects. These organisations are efficient and effective in ensuring that this funding is directed solely at the Traveller community at local level.”

‘Astonishing’

Michael Taft, research officer with Unite trade union, urged the government to help community development by putting a halt to the proposals to outsource community development and to launch “an authentic inclusive and evidence –based assessment of the needs of the Traveller community”.

“We need a strong, independent, innovative and dynamic Traveller infrastructure.”

Taft said it was “astonishing” that the government were moving forward with aligning the work of Traveller groups with local authorities despite “no evidence of shortcomings in the current system”.

He added that cuts to the community would have “a negative impact on growth”.

Any first year economics student will tell you, if you cut resources to a group that are employment dense…you don’t save money.

Joyce added that the most effective way of achieving positive outcomes for the Traveller community in Irish society is by “resourcing Traveller activity and the active participation of the Traveller community themselves, while continuing to work closely with local authorities to ensure that Travellers benefit from wider local development initiatives, especially those that involve mainstream statutory agencies”.

Roma children

Joyce welcomed the report due to be published today by Children’s Ombudsman Emily Logan into the removal of two Roma children from their families in Dublin and Westmeath last year.

She said that those affected were “particularly vulnerable”.

I think the Roma children are probably in a situation similar to ourselves: they’re a very vulnerable and excluded group of people.

Joyce added that gardaí and social workers have to take into consideration the repercussions of their actions when making a decision.

“Regardless of how well-meaning it is at the time, those decisions are going to have an impact on the lives of the individuals involved, on the community involved and and on civil society.”

Read: Justice Committee says Ireland should recognise Travellers as ethnic group

Read: 84 per cent of travellers unemployed

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