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Governments across all British and Irish Jurisdictions should consider New Duty on Local Authorities to co-ordinate Traveller Site Provision

Added 22-Oct-2014

In a report released today, Wednesday 22 October 2014, the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly’s Economic and Social Committee calls on governments across the British and Irish jurisdictions to consider a statutory obligation on all local authorities to coordinate traveller site provision. The Committee says this would go some way to addressing the potential fear that areas which build sites first will be overwhelmed by Travellers coming to that region. Travellers have as much right to appropriate accommodation that is both fit-for-purpose and honours their cultural traditions, as any other group in society.

The Committee recommends greater sharing of best practice on engaging with and meeting the needs of Travellers, Gypsies and Roma across the UK and Ireland across the board. Evidence to the inquiry exposed so many problems and differences of approach that the Committee suggests all the Governments and administrations should held a joint conference to explore these issues, with the input and support of the Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities, and share and disseminate best practice. The Committee expects that co-ordination of accommodation provision would be one of the key outcomes of such a process.

The Committee says work needs to be done to ensure that local authorities assess Traveller and Gypsy accommodation needs effectively. The Scottish Government has committed to being more transparent in needs assessments, to consult clearly and to set out evidence gathering in such needs assessments, and the Committee says other governments should follow this lead.

Access to publicly-funded accommodation should always be needs-based. On the one hand, it is clearly unacceptable to have widespread under-occupancy, individuals controlling who lives where and publicly-funded accommodation damaged by feuding. These are difficult issues to tackle,

The Committee also says the police must also do more to investigate criminal activity and prevent the extortion racquets which have sprung up in some communities, and to ensure that culprits are prosecuted.

 Health outcomes among Travellers and Gypsies are significantly worse than for the rest of the population, and this situation is deteriorating. Rates of suicide are up to seven times higher among Traveller men than the national average, and life expectancy is shorter by around 15 years for men and 12 years for women. Infant mortality is estimated to be three to six times higher among Traveller and Gypsy children. The Committee shocked to hear repeated stories, across the jurisdictions, of expectant mothers being unable to access maternity services in emergencies, or ambulance services refusing to come onto a site the Committee visited. GPs in Scotland and Ireland have still been known to close their books to Travellers and Gypsies, and the health authorities have been compelled to step in in many cases. This inequality of access - and outcomes - and patchy provision is unacceptable and must be addressed.


The Committee also recommends:

  •     The Irish Government should take urgent steps to recognise the Traveller ethnicity to ensure the appropriate protection of those people who view themselves as Travellers and to protect their culture, as recommended by the Oireachtas’ Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality
  •     the English, Northern Irish, Scottish, Irish and Welsh Governments and administrations discuss how to improve understanding and awareness of the needs and challenges faced by Travellers and Gypsies with the authorities responsible for medical, dental, social care and nursing training.
  •     Ensuring that Traveller and Gypsy children can access education services with the support that they require to fulfil their potential is a basic human right. Governments should make funding available to adequately support these children, and should also seek or provide funding for research and development of support resources for teachers.
  •     Adequate language support in schools is vital if Roma children are to be able to access education services in the UK and Ireland. We recommend that the Governments and administrations assess the adequacy of current provisions and keep a watching brief on it.
  •     It would be most desirable to see greater media coverage of Travellers, Gypsies and Roma who do well in education so that they can be role models and inspire the next generation.

Lord Dubs, Chair of the Committee, said: “It is quite shocking how tired and damaging stereotypes and discrimination against Travellers and Gypsies persist. It astounds us that in the 21st Century people who are actively seeking employment can still encounter prejudice and barriers because of their accent, address and name, as confirmed vividly by one woman in Dublin and many young people living in East London.

 “The stark differences in health and education provision and outcomes are very worrying and we view this partly as a result of a lack of overall co-ordination and central ownership of these issues. It is clear that multi-agency city-wide efforts, such as those we saw in Edinburgh, are powerful vehicles for change. This approach should be replicated across the jurisdictions. National political leadership in these areas is essential.

 “The evidence we saw in this inquiry, which took in a wide range of stakeholders including civil society groups, Government representatives, service providers working specifically with these groups, residents associations, law enforcement personnel and visits to sites of varying types, status and quality in Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast and London, to meet with members of the Traveller, Gypsy and Roma communities and capture their stories and experiences first hand, have convinced us that the situation will not change without concerted effort across these jurisdictions.” /ENDS

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