Just two thirds of money allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation was drawn down over ten years, major research by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has found.

The findings come following equality reviews initiated by the IHREC two years ago, which gathered information from councils to review the issues driving underspend.

Each local authority was invited to conduct an equality review, this is a regulatory power of the IHREC.

Traveller-specific accommodation is financed centrally by the Department of Housing and until last year, local authorities could apply through a national budget, and draw the money down.

The reviews show that between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

The commission has found evidence that underspend has been driven by both structural issues in how funding is allocated and an inadequate process for identifying housing needs.

Difficulties in agreeing specifics of projects, such as the design of site and type of accommodation, have also been identified.

Protracted consultations and discussions with residents, and also the planning process also appear to be problematic.

The reports show there is evidence of poor information gathering to inform decision-making.

There is evidence that the process for assessing the number of Travellers in a given local authority area varies from council to council, and that the process can be deficient in capturing accurate information.

Councils typically base current and future needs on social housing applications and the annual estimate of Travellers in their area.

However, there has been no facility for people to identify themselves as members of the Traveller community on the social housing application form.

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The IHREC said this lack of an ethnic identifier has had implications for the identification of and inclusion of Travellers within particular housing streams.

While many of the local authorities say members of the Traveller community express an interest for social housing, the Human Rights and Equality Commission said Travellers' true accommodation preference is not adequately transparent.

It said some members of the community experience a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation, or are exasperated by overcrowding or poor hygiene conditions in such accommodation, and for this reason feel that they have no choice but to apply for social housing.

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The IHREC said there is a lack of evidence of a full appreciation of the practical implications of cultural difference when providing services and engagement with the Traveller community.

It cites the example of an insufficient appreciation of the cultural significance of horse ownership when delivering Traveller-specific accommodation services.

On main stream provision, the commission notes a lack of suitably sized units for many larger Traveller families.

It said no local authorities report specific steps taken to track Traveller experience of private rented accommodation or to identify and respond to the particular issue of discrimination against Travellers in this sector.

Twelve local authorities set out 'indigenous requirements' for Travellers to be able to avail of social housing supports and/or Traveller-specific accommodation.

The commission has identified the need for these local authorities to review this requirement to ensure that there is no discrimination when compared to the requirements on the wider community in access to social housing.

In most of the equality reviews, there was little or no evidence of participation by the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC) or to any consultation with local Travellers or Traveller organisations, to inform the equality review.

Similarly, while there was some evidence of good practice, in many local authority areas Travellers had little participation or input in relation to the management of their sites.

The commission has welcomed that the full budget provision for Traveller accommodation has been drawn down by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHPLG) in 2020.

It has urged the department to "build on the flexibilities implemented in relation to Traveller accommodation policy over the period of the COVID-19 pandemic".