‘Out of sight, out of mind’, the appraisal of an unnamed Derry City & Strabane District councillor, ‘neatly encapsulates the inertia and decline in developing Travellers’ accommodation and services’, according to the North’s chief human rights commissioner Les Allamby.
In a new report, which was launched in the North West Migrant Centre (NWMC) in Clarendon Street on Monday, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) chief has identified 13 systematic concerns relating to Travellers’ accommodation in the North.
These include 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.
Kat Healy of the NWMC said: “In the Western Trust area, as well as across the border in Letterkenny, we have large communities of Travellers and it’s great that they will be able to attend the launch in Derry to hear first-hand that the NIHRC is publicly advocating on behalf of them on issues we have been raising for the last few years.
“Here in Derry, the title of the report rings very true in that the largest gathering of Travellers is in the Ballyarnett site on the very periphery of the city - it would be hard to pinpoint another place in the city that could be better described as ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”
A Traveller, who was interviewed during the course of the investigation, said: “All Travellers are square pegs and [the public authorities] are trying to place them into round holes.”
Another Traveller commented on the isolation they faced after moving into bricks and mortar.
“There’s nothing to do. You walk out the door of a caravan everybody’s there, but you walk out the door of a house and there’s nobody there.”
Commenting on his findings Mr. Allamby remarked: “Travellers face the unpalatable choice of living in poor conditions to retain their culture or moving into standard social housing at the expense of their way of life.
“We have found examples of inadequate facilities such as washing units not fit for purpose in the Northern Ireland climate, fire and other health and safety issues that need to be remedied.”
Local Sinn Féin Councillor Colly Kelly said urgent action is needed to ensure members of the Travelling community in Derry and further afield are adequately provided for.
“I welcome the fact that the Commission have carried out this work as it again highlights the need for action to be taken because the tragedy is that this report could have could have been written 20 years ago and the issues would have been the same.
“Therefore, I understand the frustration that is felt very acutely by the Traveller community that not enough is being done to address discrimination and inequality they experience.
“More needs to be done for Traveller families, who often find themselves in the private rented sector, usually in homes that are in real need to repair and that settled families have left because of poor conditions,” he said.