Irish Government found to be in violation of the European Social Charter on Traveller Housing and Accommodation Rights

16 May 2016

Budapest, 16 May 2016: Seven months after the Carrickmines tragedy which claimed 10 young lives on a poorly maintained temporary halting site, the Irish Government stands accused in Europe of continued neglect and failure when it comes to accommodation for Travellers.

In response to a collective complaint lodged by the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) with the Irish Traveller Movement, against the Irish Government, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) has concluded unanimously that the government has violated Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter on the following grounds:

  • provision of accommodation for Travellers remains insufficient;
  • many Traveller sites are in an inadequate condition;
  • and Travellers continue to be evicted without the necessary safeguards.

The Revised European Social Charter is the counterpart to the European Convention of Human Rights, and sets out states' obligations on economic, social and cultural rights. Article 16 of the Charter affirms the right of the family as a fundamental unit of society to “appropriate social, legal and economic protection to ensure its full development.”

In its submission, the ERRC alleged that Ireland has not ensured the satisfactory application of the Charter, with respect to accommodation for Travellers. It submits that certain legislative provisions on evictions as well as the de facto situation violates Articles 16 and 30 of the Charter either alone or in conjunction with Article E which states that “the enjoyments of the rights set forth in this Charter shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.”

Furthermore, the ERRC complained that the amount and standard of housing and accommodation provided to Travellers is insufficient and submits that Ireland has failed to create and implement a sufficiently strong legislative framework for ensuring the respect of the housing and accommodation rights of Travellers.

On these key points, the ECSR’s unanimous conclusions on insufficient accommodation, the poor maintenance and bad conditions on halting sites, and the lack of safeguards when it comes to housing rights and evictions for Travellers stand as a damning indictment of the state’s policy and legislative failures to uphold the right to protection against poverty and social exclusion.  

“I am particularly concerned about the lack of safeguards for those facing evictions in Ireland”, stated ERRC President Đorđe Jovanović. “Right across Europe, we have legally contested forced evictions of Roma and Travellers, and twice in the last month succeeded in getting the European Court of Human Rights to invoke emergency measures to halt evictions in Romania and Italy. Forced evictions are often discriminatory measures creating new forms of hardship for those evicted, and exacerbating a pattern of human rights violations. In the case of Ireland, the ECSR noted there is a failure to provide for prior consultation, prior notice, no winter moratorium, and no requirement to provide adequate alternative accommodation. I am especially concerned that there is no legal aid for those facing eviction. The remedy of judicial review in the absence of legal aid is no remedy at all. I would call on the Irish state to ensure that all those facing eviction have full access to free legal aid. ”

The Committee’s decision that there is no violation of Article 30 in conjunction with Article E is, in the words of Committee Vice-President Petros Stangos, “at odds with common sense”. In his dissenting opinion he stated that the Committee, on the one hand, found that the concrete practices and measures pursued or adopted by the Irish Government which resulted in poor upkeep of halting sites; insufficient provision of accommodation for Travellers; and the failure of the applicable law to provide for basic safeguards around evictions, all amounted to violations of Article 16.

On the other hand, and despite this, the majority of the members of the Committee elected not to consider the same national practices or measures under Article 30 (paragraph 193). The ERRC shares the observation that this effectively amounts to condoning aspects of Irish Government policy that were roundly criticised in numerous other paragraphs of the decision, and concurs with Vice-president Stangos’s conclusion: “I consider this approach to be a backward step in the attempt to secure the consistency of the various provisions of the Charter and the legal instrument’s normative integrity.”

The notion that discrimination and prejudice play no part in the failures to protect Irish Travellers from poverty and social exclusion is similarly “at odds with common sense.” The Carrickmines catastrophe and its aftermath served as a particularly tragic reminder of the human cost of institutional neglect and popular prejudice.

We would also remind the Irish government that failures to provide adequate accommodation, and the related violations of the Social Charter take a particularly high toll on the most vulnerable, and have a damaging effect on the rights, wellbeing and education of Traveller children. In 2016 it is high time for the state to honour its founding commitment to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

The European Commission was also critical of the lack of progress in its most recent review of Ireland’s National Traveller/Roma Integration Strategy. The Commission stressed the need for better coordination across the policy areas of health, education, employment and housing; called for improved monitoring and reinforced mechanisms for better communication and dialogue; and emphasised the need for adequate funding to combat the higher risk of homelessness among Travellers. The Commission made specific mention of the need for the state to develop a systematic approach to tackle prejudices against the Traveller and Roma communities, including working with the media.

The ERRC calls on the state to remedy the violations of the European Social Charter and sincerely hopes that the publication of this ECSR report to the Committee of Ministers will prompt a thorough review of current inclusion policies. This Committee’s conclusions send a clear signal of the need for a profound rethink by the Irish state of what is to be done to ensure that for Irish Travellers “the enjoyments of the rights set forth in the Charter shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.”

For further details contact:

Bernard Rorke
Advocacy Officer, ERRC
bernardrorke@gmail.com

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