Spring Lane halting site: ‘We are like people living in the Third World’

Residents say they are fed up asking the council for help to improve conditions

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Standing near her storm-damaged mobile home in the Spring Lane halting site on Cork’s northside, Michelle Delaney says her two-year-old daughter sleeps nightly in a cupboard-sized room wet because of the leaks.

Today Delaney, despite this week’s scathing report from the Ombudsman for Children’s Office about conditions on the halting site, believes Cork City Council will only take action after someone dies.

Electricity wires have been chewed by rats, she says. “As you can see, the wire is naked. Where there is a hole in the roof the wire is directly underneath it. The water seeps through.

Siblings Dylan, Tommy Lee and Margaret McCarthy pictured at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Siblings Dylan, Tommy Lee and Margaret McCarthy pictured at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

“I could be electrocuted here, as could my child. I was in fear over this. I got on to the council. I told them I would take anything. I asked for emergency accommodation. I am very upset,” she declares.

Spring Lane was originally a gravel quarry before it was turned in to a 10-bay halting site in 1989. Today 38 families, including 66 children, live there, says the council. The inhabitants put the number of families at 50.

Before her mother died from cancer in 2013, she picked up a bacterial infection, which Delaney blames on communal toilets that were built for 40 people, but today have to be used by up to 140 daily.

She is despairing of people who say that Travellers have “a grand life”. “I would say to them, ‘Come here and see.’ People in here are crying out for houses. We are forgotten about. I would live in a house in the morning.”

Raw sewage is one of life’s hazards at Spring Lane, with one mother telling how her toddler daughter recently tripped and landed in a puddle of waste. Days later, one of her tiny shoes was still floating in the excrement.

Eleven-year-old Margaret McCarthy offers a child’s view. “It is not fair for the children to live like this. There is nothing to do. We get up for school and it’s freezing. We get filthy in the mud going up to school.

“There is rubbish everywhere. When we walk back from school we see people emptying things [fly-tipping] into our place. We get the blame for the rubbish people dump here. Kids just laugh at us because we get dirty from the mud.

“There are no play things. It is very dirty. We would like a house. Because of Covid, you can’t go nowhere. The only place we go is to the shop and back. We have no proper toilets. We have no privacy here,” she goes on.

“People sometimes come for a look around and they are shaming us. They are looking at us and laughing. It is discrimination,” says Margaret, who is proud to be a Traveller, but bridles at the discrimination endured.

“When we go to shops people walk away. We were in a [SPORTS]team once and one girl said, ‘Travellers,’ and she made a face,” she told The Irish Times, who spoke to her with the permission of parents.

Her eight- year-old brother Tommy would love to live in a house, too. Often, he says, he watches rats running around the halting site. He asks if this reporter works for the council.

Then he requests that The Irish Times to talk “to the mayor” about getting his family “somewhere nice to live with toilets that flush”, as he points a to communal toilet and treacherous floors that are dangerous to walk on.

Kieran McCarthy with his son Kieran and extended family at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Kieran McCarthy with his son Kieran and extended family at Spring Lane halting site in Cork city. Photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Saying that children “like her” are forgotten about, his cousin Teresa McCarthy (12) says she can never find anywhere quiet to do her school homework because Spring Lane is always so crowded.

Traveller kids are barred from shops without their parents, or else they are told that they cannot come in without masks, even though settled children are not required to wear masks, she goes on.

“If we walk in to a shop they watch us. It is a horrible feeling. You can’t just look around. Everyone stares at us. We are discriminated against,” she says, adding that the toilets and washrooms on the site are “depressing”.

The facilities upset the adults, too. Some of the Portakabins, which are not insulated, do not have hot water, while some of the toilets are used so often that they do not flush properly, or at all.

“Sewage. I have a pain in my throat from complaining about it,” says one mother, who chooses not to be named. “You would do better in prison. These two bays are the worst. Look at the potholes.

“The water drips into my mobile. I have been down to the council one hundred times. I showed the council videos of my kids in the sewage. I asked if they would like their kids to walk in sewage.

“They say they will send someone. The toilets don’t work. Everything is broken,” she goes on, becoming emotional as she talks about how her elderly father, who has suffered two heart attacks, has gone to friends “for a break”.

Pointing to a small sofa in his mobile home, she said he rarely moved from it because it was one of the few places in the home unaffected by leaks. “You can see the imprint of him always sitting there on the cushion. It is depressing.”

Kieran McCarthy had his doubts about talking to The Irish Times because so many people have come to look around over the years, but have done nothing to help.

“[It] is the same way for the last 30 years. We are like people living in the Third World and that is no disrespect to anyone there. There are 50 families here and a big crowd of children and the council are doing nothing. We are forgotten about.”

Brigid McCarthy fears Spring Lane could become the next Carrickmines, where 10 Travellers lost their lives after an October 2015 fire. The Dublin tragedy is never far from her mind.

“The caravans are really close to each other. If one went on fire they would all go on fire,” she says, adding that she would be happy to show Taoiseach Micheál Martin around Spring Lane to see for himself.

“I would give him a good piece of my mind. I would like him to see how we live. Waking up every morning in the cold and the damp. It is hell. The kids are getting sick from the cold and the germs. It is something else.”

Responding to questions, Cork City Council said it is committed to implementing the recommendations of the Ombudsman for Children and looks forward to working with all sides “to find and progress solutions”.

In its contribution to the report, the local authority said many of the families would not consider any houses outside of their chosen areas, which did not have sufficient housing stock to meet this desire.