Familes living without water or electricity in oldest purpose-built Traveller site

New units have been promised since 1999 for Dublin site


Labre Park in Ballyfermot, Dublin, built in 1967 and the oldest purpose-built Traveller halting-site in the State, is home to 19 families in houses and has space for 24 families in caravans.

There are, however, 43 families in caravans, eight of whom have no running water, sanitation or electricity. Seven without basic facilities have young children, including two with special needs.

The 35 who do have washing facilities were provided them in small steel outhouses, with toilets, showers and washing machines in late 2011. Dublin City Council says these are “temporary”.

The 43 caravans are parked tightly together, not in bays but in a disorganised fashion between cars, bikes, rubbish containers, piles of wood, metal piping and furniture. Children have no designated play areas.

It is, says resident Michael Berry (45), a father of seven children between 21 years and 15 months, “heaven compared to what it used to be”.

“Before we got the outhouse I’d have to bring the children to McDonald’s to get a wash.”

The family live in an uninsulated van, where two of the children share a bed with his wife, three sleep in beds and two sleep on the floor with him. After heavy rain water comes through the floor of the van. “When I take up the mattress in the morning after rain, it’s wet on the bottom.”

In a nearby van, his nephew, Thomas Berry, lives with his wife Simone and their three year-old son. They have no toilet, running water or electricity. In another van, Gerry and Mary Devine live in a one-room van, with a two-year-old and six-month old baby. They share facilities with Gerry’s mother Anne, who lives alone in the adjacent van.

They would like their own space but have nowhere to go. Gerry has fashioned heating for the two vans with a boiler and stove in a shed he made, with pipes running from it into each of the vans to heat radiators. “Only for him I’d be frozen in that van,” says his mother.

Several of the outhouses seen by The Irish Times last week had mildew on the ceiling. One had mushrooms growing in the shower, in another one of the walls was falling apart.

Promised units
Labre Park has been included in every five-year Traveller Accommodation Programme drawn up by Dublin City Council since 1999. Thirteen new units of accommodation were promised for the site in the first (for the period 1999-2003) and 22 in each of the following two (2004-2008 and 2009-2013). None has been built.

This is despite the fact planning permission was granted for new units on the site, and refurbishment, in 2006. Funding was made available in principle by the Department of the Environment in 2008, pending clarification of a number of matters.

The council says “antisocial” behaviour on the site prevented the plan proceeding. This is rejected by Lorraine McMahon, project co-ordinator with Ballyfermot Traveller Action Project. “This issue was resolved by the end of 2009,” she says.

Slabs of demolished houses
The council agrees the site is overcrowded, saying new and returning families have come on to the estate and occupied the slabs of demolished houses and other areas that were never designed for accommodation.

“The City Council has applied for funding for the provision of further emergency facilities to facilitate these families and we would hope to have these in place in the near future.” It planned to redevelop the site. “In the short term we recognise that the families who left other serviced accommodation are currently in need of facilities and are working to have these in place as soon as possible.”