Cork City Council ‘duplicitous’ in response to Traveller housing report – advocacy group

Council accepted Ombudsman findings in letter to group but challenged them with Minister

Spring Lane Halting Site, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Spring Lane Halting Site, Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

An advocacy group for Travellers has described Cork City Council’s reaction to a report from the Ombudsman for Children Office as “duplicitous” and “truly astonishing”.

The Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) in Cork city, which supports residents of the Spring Lane halting site in Blackpool, is calling on the council to clarify if it accepts the findings of a damning report from the Ombudsman, which found the rights of children there violated by their dire living conditions.

While the council told residents it was “committed” to implementing changes demanded by the report published in May, it now apparently rejected the report in correspondence with the Department of Housing, the TVG says.

The Ombudsman report, No End In Site, published in May followed a three-year statutory review. Without naming the site it said Cork City Council had left children there in filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, unsafe, cold and damp living conditions. They had high rates of illness, including respiratory problems, and a lack of safe areas to play, it said.

It noted the council’s “failure” to consider the interests of the children living here; its “persistent” failure to address illegal dumping; its “passivity” in addressing overcrowding, and, its “carelessness” in housing application record-keeping.

The council’s “failure to comply with the minimum requirements of the law” in implementing its own Traveller Accommodation Programmes was “discriminatory,” it said.

Letters

In a letter to Spring Lane residents, dated July 21st, 2021, Brian Geaney, chief operations officer with the council, said the local authority was “fully committed to finding a solution to the accommodation and other issues on the site…and ... to improve the lives of children living on the site”.

“As a council we made commitments to the OCO [Ombudsman for Children Office] and we intend delivering on these commitments.”

He said mediation organisation Adjust had been engaged to facilitate “consultation and liaison” between residents and the council, adding: “There is now an opportunity for the…council and...residents…to at last find a solution to the accommodation problems on the site.”

However, in a six-page letter to Minister of State with responsibility for Traveller accommodation, Peter Burke, the council said it had great difficulty accepting the Ombudsman’s findings.

In the letter, reportedly sent within a week of the publication of the Ombudsman’s report, the council said the needs of all those living at Spring Lane – and in particular children – had always been its priority.

It said issues were “nowhere as simple” as outlined in the Ombudsman’s report, which did not show a “complete understanding or appreciation of the complex problems and deep-rooted socio-economic issues” involved.

It said delays in refurbishing welfare units – which house washing and toilet facilities – could “be explained” and refurbishments were planned.

It questioned findings about waste management, saying an industrial-sized skip was provided on-site and serviced every week.

On its social media page on Monday the TVG said: “The duplicity of [the] city council is truly astonishing. It agrees to the recommendations of the Children’s Ombudsman but then it rejects its findings in correspondence with its line department.”

Commenting on a council assertion to the Minister that there was “complete transparency” in its housing allocations process, the TVG said “the dogs in the street know the truth, and that there is no accountability, nor transparency in housing allocations”.

A TVG spokesman asked: “Which one is the true position of city council? Is the buy-in [in the July letter] just a mirage?”

Cork city council did not provide a comment on Monday.