Girl with cerebral palsy wins damages over unfit accommodation

Duty to improve conditions of caravan girl shared was breached, Supreme Court rules

A Traveller girl with cerebral palsy is entitled to damages after a local authority breached its duty to take certain steps to improve the conditions of the caravan she shared with eight family members, the Supreme Court has ruled.

The damages for Ellen O'Donnell, who uses a wheelchair, will be decided later by the High Court and may be "moderate", the court added.

While the situation was arguably partly the responsibility of her parents, the council knew where Ms O’Donnell was living was unfit for human habitation. It could have reduced substantially the “day-by-day, night-by-night degradation and indignity” she was subjected to, Mr Justice John Mac Menamin said.

Giving the court's unanimous judgment, he also ruled South Dublin County Council had discharged its duty to Ms O'Donnell's parents, Mary and Patrick, who refused offers of alternative accommodation and gave away a second caravan provided by the council to alleviate overcrowding.


The judgment concerned an appeal against a 2008 High Court ruling which found Ms O’Donnell’s right to a private life under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been breached by the council’s failure to provide adequate temporary accommodation for her.

The High Court dismissed other claims brought by the rest of the O’Donnell family, including Ellen’s six siblings.

Court erred

The O’Donnells and the council had appealed against the High Court decision.

The O’Donnells claimed the High Court erred in failing to rule the duty to provide accommodation for them extended to “temporary dwelling” and that the council failed in its statutory duty to provide them with an adequate caravan.

The council argued it had gone beyond its legal duty by providing them with a halting site and two caravans.

Giving judgment, Mr Justice Mac Menamin said Ms O’Donnell, aged 15 at the time of the High Court case, was confined to a wheelchair and educationally disadvantaged. While two older siblings had since moved out of their caravan in Tallaght, Dublin, the issues originally raised by the O’Donnells remained live.