Calls for Clare council to declare Traveller housing crisis

Nearly 40 children living by roadside in Clare as €237,000 housing fund remains unspent

 

Almost 40 children – some with chronic illnesses and disabilities – are living by roadsides in Co Clare without secure electricity, running water or toilets.

Aged between three months and 16 years, they are in 13 Traveller families.

With recent figures showing Clare County Council has failed to spend any of the €237,000 allocated for Traveller housing since 2015, or to use its powers to provide basic sanitary conditions to those without them, there are growing calls for the council’s new chief executive, Pat Dowling, to declare a Traveller housing crisis in the county.

The most recent official figures, from 2015, showed there were 10 families living by the side of the road in Clare, up from three in 2012 and 2103 and nine in 2014.

At the Gort road in Ennis, next to marshy ground they claim is “full of rats”, are four families with 16 children, aged 20 months to 15 years. They have their own electricity generators, but neither running water nor toilets.

Toddler with cancer

Precious (20 months) is recovering from several months of high-dose chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant.

“She had leukaemia,” says her mother Sandra (28). “The doctors in Crumlin were fantastic. They wrote to the council in April saying she needed a sterile environment, that this caravan wasn’t suitable, but we’ve got nothing back.” Precious has three siblings , aged four to seven.

They need a toilet most of all, says Sandra. “We use the garage if we need to go. To wash ourselves, we go to the swimming pool; and the clothes, we spend about €50 a week at the wash-house.

“It’s very hard living like this,” says Sandra. “It’s hard getting the kids ready for the school in the morning. I asked the council for a portaloo and they said they had nothing to give us.”

In Drumoland, on a stony site off the Ennis to Limerick road, are two families, including 10 children – one of whom has special needs – without basic facilities. Both named O’Donoghue, they say they have been here almost two years.

“I get cans of water from the garage and my mother’s,” says Debbie (27), mother of five children aged six months to 11 years. The family of seven share a 16ft caravan, with one bedroom and a pull-out couch.

“On a rainy day we’re all sitting in. There’s nowhere to play – only stones and puddles,” she says.

“We’ve been on the council housing list for 12 years. When I ask when we can get a house, they just say, ‘We’ve no information’. It’s very hard. All I want is a house where the children can have a bit of space. They’re constantly sick and I’m racing around for antibiotics.

Better future

Her husband, Anthony (30), sitting on the bed with his two-year-old son Anthony, says he wants his children to have a future he and his wife didn’t. “Travellers have the worst rights of anyone. I want my kids to get their education. I never got no education, and that’s being honest,” he says.

In Ennistymon, Kathleen Sherlock, her husband Patrick, their daughter Kathleen-Marie (21) and their four youngest children, aged 8 to 14, share a dilapidated mobile home. Two other sons, aged 15 and 18, share a small caravan, with broken windows and a leaking roof, while another son Michael (22), his new wife and their baby, share a third caravan.

All are adjacent to a three-bedroom house in a group housing scheme for which they pay €20 a week to the council. They refuse to live in it, however, saying it is uninhabitable.

The house is visibly damp throughout and there is a strong smell of damp. Wallpaper is falling from the walls, paint is peeling, mould is encrusted around windows and dark mildew scars walls and ceilings. Skirting boards are, says Kathleen, “red rotten”.

They are now in a larger mobile home, which they sourced and paid for themselves.

“The council said they had €50,000 to refurbish the house, but they won’t do it until we move our vans,” said Kathleen. “But we have nowhere to bring them. It’s stressful. I try to keep the best side out, for the kids. Sometimes I would like to go and have a good roar, but I can’t.”

Urgent action

There has been little organised Traveller representation in Co Clare in recent years.

The council’s Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee had, until recently, hardly met since 2014.

However, it has now met twice since December, and under the aegis of the county’s Public Participation Network (PPN) – an organisation of over 200 community groups – Travellers’ voices are being represented more assertively at the LTACC.

“We are calling for urgent action by the council, to supply emergency sanitation to the roadside sites,” says Sarah Clancy of PPN. “And to follow this with a constructive plan to provide suitable homes that respects the human rights and dignity of the Travelling community .’

Under section 27 of the 1998 Housing Act and section 24 of the Traveller Accommodation Act, local authorities are empowered to provide emergency accommodation, when it is “urgent and necessary, having regard to personal health, public health and safety considerations, in order to provide a reasonable standard of accommodation for any person”.

Clare County Council declined to respond to questions from The Irish Times on Travellers in its area.