‘It’s mental torture’: Traveller family living without running water or electricity

Family say county council was engaging over group housing until ‘contact broke off’

A member of an extended Co Mayo family, who have had neither running water nor a secure electricity supply for more than 20 years, says they have been put through "mental torture" trying to get facilities from their local authority.

The five-household Maughan family, which includes 17 children, have lived on a 1.2-acre site off the Moneen Road in Castlebar for 17 years.

For the previous four years they had been parked up across the Sir Ernst Chain Road, but say they were advised by gardaí to move to the current site after a young son survived being hit by a passing truck.

Donna Maughan, a mother of seven, says a portaloo on the site was provided by Mayo County Council last year. This followed a direction from the Department of Housing to local authorities to provide basic sanitation to all Traveller sites to help prevent Covid-19 infection. In addition, the families continue to pay a company €50 a week to rent and service another portaloo.


“So that’s it, two portaloos between 17 children and all the adults,” says Donna.

Outside her family's caravan are several churns used to collect water from a nearby garage. They buy bottled drinking water "in Lidl or Tesco". Their electricity generator is on for a few hours a day only and the families heat their caravans with stoves.

“To wash ourselves we either heat water in kettles to fill a bath or go to the swimming pool when it’s open for a shower,” says Donna. “In the winter time, getting ready for school, we have to use battery lights or a torch. I have to be up well before them to light the stove. It is hard getting them up.”

Her father-in-law, Séamus Maughan, says that in March 2000 the family, which was then smaller, applied for group housing.

“The council took us on board, and meetings went on in 2003 and 2004, but since then they haven’t been talking about group housing. Contact broke off. We don’t know why.”

‘No offer’

A spokeswoman for Mayo County Council said: “Although several accommodation proposals have been put to the families, to date no agreement has been reached.” She said the Traveller accommodation officer and social workers were “engaging extensively with the families”.

Retired solicitor Kevin Brophy, who is supporting the Maughans, says no housing offer has been made in writing.

Séamus says that while one offer was made verbally, it was in an estate where another Traveller family lived. “I told the council, ‘If you put us in here, there will be a backlash. Could you put us in somewhere else?’ and they said no.”

The Maughan’s preference remains for group housing. However, no new group housing is planned for Co Mayo, according to the council’s Traveller Accommodation Programme for 2019 to 2024.

In its equality review of the programme, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission notes that Mayo County Council "does not have in place a robust and transparent system to capture, assess, record, track over time and independently verify the accommodation preferences of Travellers".

The families need electricity and water immediately, says Clint Maughan, Donna’s husband.

“It’s not like what we want needs planning permission. We have been brought on a wild goose chase for years, applying for facilities and what not, being promised them and not getting them,” he says.

“It’s mental torture. For the past 15 years we have been trying, attending their meetings and getting no further. It’s like a circus, round and round.”

‘You don’t exist’

Clint worries about the conditions his family, the children in particular, are living in.

“They don’t have basics like water or electricity. If they could wash their faces in the morning with warm water they would be in better humour going to school,” he said. “It makes me feel like we’re nothing, rejected. It’s like you don’t exist and my kids don’t exist. You live for your kids. If the council cannot do it for us, please, do it for my kids.”

Asked about getting work, he says: “It would be nice to get the offer of a job but when they find out your background, it’s awkward and shameful.”

A council spokeswoman said: “The issue of Traveller accommodation is something which Mayo County Council takes very seriously. The council will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that successful outcomes are reached both now and in the future.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times