Almost none of the safety and health concerns raised by the Traveller community have been addressed across 18 sites and group housing schemes in Galway city and county since a monitoring project focusing on Traveller accommodation began in 2017, according to a report published this week.
According to Traveller Homes Now, the third monitoring report in two years on the state of Traveller accommodation in Galway, no meaningful progress has been made by Galway's two local authorities to respond to the “uninhabitable, unsafe, and unhealthy” accommodation in which many Traveller families are being forced to live.
Galway Travellers presented the report to Galway city and county councils this week, on the day that Ireland reported to CERD, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Galway Travelling Community described the now decades-long failure to provide culturally appropriate accommodation as “cultural genocide, designed to wear people down and to force them to assimilate by accepting houses out of desperation".
According to the report few health and safety concerns have been addressed since the monitoring project began in 2017, with conditions worsening in some cases. The report found that some families are living without heat and cooking facilities in accommodation where insulation is minimal or non-existent. Windows and doors have to be plugged with sheets and cloth to keep out draughts. On one site, the kitchens were found to be sinking. On another, the toilet facilities are sinking. Gullies are leaking, causing water to flow under houses. There are cracks in walls and chimneys and faulty, old, radiators are leaking black water across living rooms and bedrooms. Parents have to protect children from rats, stagnant water, and busy roads too close to the sites. Barriers are locked with no access for emergency vehicles.
“This report is very distressing but unfortunately it is no longer shocking,” said Bridget Kelly of Galway Traveller Movement this week. “Traveller families are being forced to live in these disgraceful and stressful conditions for decades now because our landlords – Galway city and county councils – continue to blatantly ignore the rights of our community to safe and healthy culturally appropriate accommodation.
“This is not a question of lack of money, laws or policy," she added. "It is a question of institutional racism in its rawest form. We are being forced to choose between our cultural rights and our basic need for decent accommodation for our children and loved ones. It’s unjust, undeniable, and unforgiveable.”
Joanna Corcoran of Galway Traveller Movement, called for Galway's local authorities to deliver on their commitments to provide for adequate Traveller accommodation immediately. She also called for the speedy establishment of an independent national agency to oversee the planning and development of Traveller accommodation, as recommended recently by the Traveller Accommodation Expert Group (convened by Minister Damien English ).
Up to the end of last month, Galway City Council had not drawn down any of the funding allocated to it for Traveller accommodation this year. Galway County Council had spent 10 per cent of its allocation for Traveller accommodation in the same period.
Galway Traveller Movement launched the Traveller Homes Now campaign two years ago (November 2017 ). The group presented the first monitoring report on dire conditions and serious breaches of housing rights and policies across 18 sites and community housing projects in July 2018, with a follow-up progress report last July 2019. This is their third report. They say that the conditions in Galway reflect the situation for many Travellers throughout the country.