Traveller and Roma legal cases feature in FLAC report
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Travellers and Roma featured significantly in the Annual Report 2018 of Free Legal Advice Centres, launched today by Justice & Equality Minister, Charlie Flanagan, TD.
In launching the Report, Minister Flanagan acknowledged the particular needs of ethnic minorities, including Travellers and Roma, in accessing the justice system.
In June 2018 FLAC launched its legal clinic for the Roma community and held 30 drop-in clinics and had 40 active case files for Roma clients.
Public interest cases highlighted in the Report include the case of a Roma woman who was refused a job in a hotel because she was wearing a traditional skirt. Another case saw an older Roma woman whose rent supplement was suspended for over a year putting her at risk of homelessness. In another case a Roma woman received a settlement for threatened defamation against a shop in Dublin that refused her access.
Habitual Residence Condition
An issue of concern raised by FLAC in relation to Roma in Ireland is the application of the Habitual Residence Condition.
The complexity of the Habitual Residence Condition gives rise to very variable results across deciding officers in the Government Departments, the report states. According to the Report it is ‘often applied in an overly rigid manner, without regard to all the circumstances of the case’.
This problem is experienced by a number of cases of Roma clients who have resided in the State in excess of five years, but find it difficult to establish documentary evidence necessary to prove such residence.
Casefiles on housing and homelessness constituted the largest category of casefiles dealt with by FLAC in 2018. Some of these cases concerned members of the Traveller community.
One judicial review case concerned a young Traveller family with two children who were living in a small unserviced caravan. The judicial review of the local authority’s failure to assess them as homeless was settled on the basis of the local authority agreeing to carry out further assessment of their situation. The couple and children remain homeless, according to the report.
Another concern raised by FLAC is in relation to Garda vetting prior to allocation of housing. Anti-social behaviour or bad estate management can bar a person from an accommodation allocation. The law allows for exchange of information on these issues between local authorities. FLAC raises concerns that exchanges appear to stray beyond statutory purposes.
In one case a Traveller woman with an number of children became homeless and the local authority agreed to allocate her a particular house. Local Gardai then contacted the Council by email to express concern regarding the allocation. The offer of housing to her was withdrawn without explanation.
Local residents, says the Report, became aware of the allocation and went to An Garda Síochána stating they had concerns about the family as they had a bad reputation. The woman concerned had a common surname among Traveller families but was not part of the family with the stated ‘bad reputation’.
Following a Freedom of Information request it was discovered that the email contained significant hearsay in relation to the family concerned and passed through many email accounts within An Garda Síochána and the local authority before causing what appeared to be a wholly unjustified denial of access to housing and considerable hardship to the woman and children.
FLAC is an independent legal and human rights organisation which exists to promote equal access to justice. Find out more at www.flac.ie