'Unpalatable' living conditions faced by Northern Ireland Travellers, says report
Travellers in Northern Ireland are facing living in "unpalatable" conditions or losing their way of life in social housing, a human rights body has warned.
Publishing their first investigation into Travellers' accommodation in nearly a decade, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission hit out at government provisions.
Racial discrimination, poor facilities and inadequate health and safety provisions were among the key concerns.
Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: "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."
He said the Commission was concerned key government departments responsible for providing a decent standard of living for everyone in Northern Ireland had an "out of sight, out of mind" attitude.
The report urges the Housing Executive to improve management of Traveller's accommodation and calls on local councils to prevent unnecessary delays to planning applications.
Mr Allamby added there was "an erosion of nomadic life" through existing policies.
One Traveller the Commission interviewed said: "All Travellers are square pegs and (the public authorities) are trying to place them into round holes."
Another spoke of the isolation he felt after moving into a traditional bricks and mortar home.
"There's nothing to do," he said.
"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."
The Commission will push forward their proposed changes over the next 12 months.
Among 13 systemic issues identified are a lack of basic services at Traveller sites and racial discrimination from public authorities and the settled community, particularly with planning applications.
While domestic human rights laws were largely adequate, the Commission said an Unauthorised Encampments law was used disproportionately against Travellers.
Other demands included the provision and funding of Traveller-specific accommodation and a greater effort to include Travellers in the decision-making process.