The traveller sites at Ballyarnett and the Daisyfield remain unlicensed, according to a human rights specialist, who has encouraged Derry City & Strabane District Council to take an active role in addressing the oversight.
Dr. Hannah Russell of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission issued the call while briefing the Council’s Health and Community Committee on ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’, a NIHRC report on travellers’ accommodation in the North.
At present the Ballyarnett site is the only operational traveller encampment in the city, the site at the Daisyfield having been closed since last September due to vandalism. The Greenbrae facility in Strabane, meanwhile, has been closed since 2016.
Dr. Russell told the committee that while the Northern Ireland Housing Executive was responsible for applying for site licences it was up to DC&SDC to regulate.
She said the Daisyfield and Greenbrae closures had come in spite of a demonstrable need for sites in the wider district.
On a positive note, she said the NIHRC understood that environmental health issues related to waste management at the Ballyarnett site have been resolved through the Council’s intervention.
However, she said the NIHRC felt that better management of the Daisyfield and other sites would make it easier to address issues such as anti-social behaviour.
Some council’s in the North are unaware of their regulatory repsonsibility and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) will be issuing clarification on this imminently, she said.
Dr. Russell was invited to address the committee after the NIHRC reported on 13 systematic concerns relating to travellers’ accommodation in the North in March.
These included inadequate services and facilities, anti-nomadic legislation such as the Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005, societal prejudice, and underrepresentation of travellers on public and elected bodies.
Sinn Féin councillor, Eric McGinley said it was important progress was made on the report’s recommendations and that it was something the Council took “very seriously”.
Independent councillor, Gary Donnelly, said members of the travelling community faced widespread racism and prejudice and that he hoped the report’s recommendations would be acted upon and not left lying on the shelf.
SDLP councillor, Brian Tierney, raised the issue of some travellers’ reluctance accessing local community facilities due to their anxiety about prejudice emanating from the settled community.
Independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, said building trust was critical as travellers often fear an erosion of their culture when engaging with public bodies.
The Council’s Head of Health and Commnity Wellbeing, Seamus Donaghy, confirmed that site licence applications from the NIHE were recently returned because they were incomplete and that the local authority was currently awaiting updated applications from the housing authority.