A site for the Travelling community in Derry is undergoing refurbishment while a site licence is being processed by Derry’s council, it has emerged.

News of the refurbishment came at Thursday’s meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee.

It also emerged at the meeting that an investigation is currently being carried out by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (the Commission) into Travellers accommodation in the north.

The meeting was told that Chief Commissioner of the body had stated that research had shown that a quarter of Travellers residing in Northern Ireland have reported their place of residence to be ‘unhealthy or very unhealthy, and many have also concerns about safety.’

The research showed that a ‘lack of footpaths, public lighting, fire hydrants, play areas, plumbing, washing facilities, electricity and refuse management’ were some of the issues highlighted.

The meeting also heard that a Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) needs assessment has ‘also outlined the need for appropriate accommodation for Travellers’.

It also emerged at the meeting that Northern Ireland Executive and other public authorities are required by human rights law to ‘fulfil the right to adequate housing and must ensure non-discrimination’ for the Travelling community, and this would be the ‘principal focus’ of the investigation.

The Commission had met with council officers February 2017.

A report brought before Thursday’s meeting added that under The Caravan Act 2011 the NIHE require a licence for their three caravan sites within the council area, namely the Daisyfield, Ballyarnett and Greenbrae.

Councillors were told that application for a site licence at Daisyfield is currently being processed by the Council’s Environmental Health section and the site is under refurbishment.

The meeting was also told that if necessary, the Commission may ‘compel evidence’ in the form of ‘information, documents or oral evidence’, with councillors asked to approve a recommendation that it ‘endorses council officer participation in the on-going investigation’.

Commenting, the SDLP’s Gus Hastings, who sits on the council’s interagency Traveller Action Group, said that problems had been encountered in the past when Travellers had been offered accommodation in housing estates and not sites.

“If we are not to infringe their human rights, then they must be given the choice to either continue their Traveller way of life or be settled, but not have that imposed on them,” he said.

Cllr Hastings added that given that Ballyarnett was ‘not a major site’ and the Daisyfield was undergoing refurbishment, there was a ‘limited’ choice of where they could go.

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