Travellers bring accommodation action to Europe
Irish Travellers are taking a class action over what they say is the State’s failure to provide them with adequate accommodation
Inadequate accommodation: Mary McCarthy outside her caravan at Bawney’s Bridge halting site in Limerick. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22
Irish Travellers are taking what amounts to a class action against the State, alleging persistent failure to provide adequate accommodation for the estimated 30,000 Travellers in the Republic. The complaint will be adjudicated by the European Committee of Social Rights, part of the Council of Europe.
Working with the Irish Traveller Movement, the European Roma Rights Centre, which is based in Budapest, made a “collective complaint” to the committee against Ireland.
The complaint was lodged with the committee in April; the committee, under the auspices of the Committee of Ministers on the Council of Europe, monitors compliance with the European Social Charter, which seeks to protect economic, social and cultural rights. The State will make submissions, and the case is likely to come to a full hearing, involving senior counsel on each side, next year.
The European Roma Rights Centre’s complaint, which runs to 34 pages, also alleges that “actions and omissions” by the State have “violated the rights of child Travellers to social, legal and economic protection”.
If the action is successful, Irish Travellers would not be awarded financial compensation, but the Government would be under pressure from the Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, to address its allegations.
Among those hoping the complaint will be upheld is 79-year-old Mary McCarthy, who has lived at Bawney’s Bridge halting site in Limerick with her 11-year-old granddaughter, Lisa, for almost 10 years.
The site is home to 13 Traveller families. It is supposed to accommodate just eight families, so caravans are packed tightly together and it’s difficult to drive into and out of.
McCarthy and her granddaughter share a van parked in the lane that enters the site. Mary sleeps in a bed at one end of the van; Lisa sleeps on two seats that turn into a single bed at night. They have a small fridge and electric cooker that work off a petrol generator. Five years ago Limerick City Council put a small steel toilet and a tiny steel wash basin in a galvanised shed next to their van.
There is no bath or shower, so the pair wash with water in the van or use one of the showers provided to other families on the site.
“In the winter the van is like an icebox,” says McCarthy. “To heat it’s very expensive in gas bottles in the winter, so we just can’t have the heat on all the time.”
The nearest shop is a branch of Centra, a 20-minute walk away. There is no park, green or play area anywhere nearby. A low wall separates the site from Dock Road, which is busy with trucks and other heavy traffic day and night. On the adjacent area is an animal-feed and fertiliser plant, which is noisy, unsightly and the source of health concerns for Traveller families.
Despite the conditions, McCarthy says she would prefer to stay at Bawney’s Bridge. Limerick City Council served an eviction notice on her and the owners of the three other vans in the entrance lane. Séamus O’Connor, a senior social worker with the council, says the families in the lane are there without permission and the council wants to refurbish the site, which it cannot do unless it clears the lane for access.
McCarthy and the others say they will go if they can continue to live together on one site. O’Connor says this is not possible. What is on offer is “standard local-authority housing”, he says. Space on an alternative halting site was offered, but he and the families agree this was rejected because the family living there already was not “compatible” with the McCarthys. Mary says she could not bear to live in a standard settled housing, having lived in halting sites most of her life.