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Watchdog issues warning over traveller housing shortage and site conditions

One of Europe’s top rights watchdogs has warned Ireland over the lack of accommodation for travellers and poor living conditions at halting sites.

In the midst of one of the country’s worst housing crises, inspectors upheld five complaints against the state and dismissed nine.

They warned the biggest problems for travellers include a lack of clean water and drainage, poor or non-existent bin collection, flooding and sewage issues, damp, and water ingress.

The European Committee of Social Rights, part of the 47-member Council of Europe, examined traveller accommodation after a complaint was lodged by European Roma Rights Centre in 2013.

It alleged insufficient housing, discrimination and breaches of education rights of children.

The watchdog said the Government was told in 1995 that 1,000 halting sites were needed but only 54 had been created in five council regions.

It said 361 families still lived on unauthorised sites in 2013.

The committee said the “not insignificant number” of halting sites were in poor condition, lacked maintenance and are badly located.

Some have no flush toilets, running water or postal and rubbish services and are far from shops and amenities, it said.

The committee also criticised Ireland’s public order laws which it said do not adequately protect travellers threatened with eviction or notify them of a time to leave.

The legislation is designed to stop unlawfully occupied property being damaged but the committee said it does not justify a lack of safeguards for people who are in “genuine need of a home”.

The committee said the requirement for less than 24 hours’ notice for an eviction is unacceptable.

And while it accepted the Government’s response that “in practice” evictees get more than a day, it said that was insufficient.

The committee dismissed nine other claims including that the lack of suitable accommodation was a direct discrimination of travellers and that the right to education was affected by the lack of adequate halting sites.

“Ireland has adopted a co-ordinated approach … to remove obstacles to access for housing for Travellers,” the report said.

“The measures taken are monitored and consultation is ongoing on improving outcomes for the Traveller community.”

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It also criticised the lack of legal aid for travellers to fight evictions and the limited access to judicial review.

The European Social Charter, monitored by the committee, is a legally binding counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights.

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