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28/07/2021

Significant underspend by council on Offaly Traveller accommodation

Significant underspend by council on Offaly Traveller accommodation

The halting site at Kilcruttin

THERE has been a significant underspend by Offaly County Council in relation to Traveller-specific accommodation.

It is reported that over the period 2015-2018 a total allocation of €1,146,273 was available to the council but the drawdown from the Department was €223,668.

In 2019, allocation amounted to €984,998 and the total drawdown came to €509,743 as of October 2019 (the balance was due to be drawn down in December 2019).

In respect of annual current expenditure for Traveller accommodation from 2015 to 2018, the total expenditure over this period was reported as being €1,031,175 and the total figure drawn down was €437,088.

The Council states that the identification of suitable sites for the provision of Traveller group housing is a challenge.
It reports that sites owned by the Council may be used for this purpose and additional sites may be acquired, if needed subject to the availability of funding.

The information is contained in an equality review by Offaly County Council into Traveller Accommodation which was published this week by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. The commission initiated equality reviews in 2019 with every local authority in the country in an effort to review the issues driving underspend.

Offaly County Council reports that in 2014, significant refurbishment and clean-up work was carried out on Kilcruttin Halting Site at a cost of €350,000 only €89,000 of this was approved by the Department of Heritage Planning and Local Government ( DHPLG) and that the Council had to absorb the remaining expenditure incurred.

More generally, the council states that the costs of environmental works/clean-up can be significant when dealing with Traveller-specific accommodation, yet these costs are not currently available from the department and must be borne by local authorities.

In the 2019-2024 Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP) the council states it plans to provide a total of 65 units, allowing for family growth over the lifetime of the plan. The council detailed that the key capital projects will be the completion of 4 group housing schemes, with the first of these in Chancery Lane, Tullamore. This will be monitored by the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, (TACC).

“Offaly County Council will not include provision of accommodation for horses in proposals regarding Traveller accommodation. It is the opinion of the Council that horses are the responsibility of the owner and as such it is for the owner to arrange suitable accommodation. ‘’

“The nomadic tradition of Travellers is accommodated in the regulation of tenancies/agreements whereby Travellers may leave their accommodation for a period of 6 weeks for the purposes of travelling: this regulation is being subject to further review and consultation with Travellers”.

According to the council, a caretaker is employed to assist with the daily management and maintenance of the three existing halting sites in the county. It states that the Council provides a crèche/playschool facility on the Kilcruttin Halting Site. The Council reports that rent charged for halting site bays is fixed at €7.50 per week (plus €5/week for waste collection) and includes the provision of a day house

Transient halting sites have not been prioritised by the Council on the basis that such sites could only be justified, in terms of cost and sustainability, if developed in collaboration with a number of adjacent local authorities;

In response, the Commission has made a number of recommendations to the council including the removal of the blanket ban on addressing the accommodation needs of Travellers in terms of keeping horses.

It also recommends employing a Traveller Liaison Officer and engaging the services of an appropriate independent body, to draft a report on the true accommodation preferences of the current residents of the two unofficial halting sites in the county.

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