State has ‘repeatedly failed’ Travellers, says Minister

Findings from report into living conditions of children at halting site ‘deeply unacceptable’

Minister of State for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien said he would be discussing issues raised in the report with the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

Minister of State for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien said he would be discussing issues raised in the report with the Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien. Photograph: Tom Honan/The Irish Times

 

It must be acknowledged that the State has “repeatedly failed” Travellers over time, the Minister for Community Development and Charities Joe O’Brien has said.

Mr O’Brien said the findings from a report by the Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) into the living conditions of children in a local authority halting site is “deeply unacceptable”.

The report, published on Monday, finds that Cork City Council is violating the human rights of Traveller children by leaving them in filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, unsafe and cold and damp living conditions.

“I haven’t had a chance to read it [the report] in detail, it’s clear that the situation described there is deeply unacceptable. I think we have to acknowledge as well that the State has repeatedly failed the Travellers over time,” the Green Party TD told the Children’s Rights Alliance national conference on Monday.

“I think the title of the report [No End in Site] was alluding to that as well. I’ve particular interest in trying to improve that situation in my department. It is ultimately a poverty issue as well.

“While I referenced the 5.5 per cent consistent poverty rate across the population, I think it’s fair to say that the poverty rate among Travellers is likely to be much more dramatically higher than that.”

Mr O’Brien said he would be discussing issues raised in the report with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien.

Wrong trajectory

Mr O’Brien said while the child poverty rate had dropped by four per cent between 2013 and 2018, the trajectory had gone “in the wrong direction”, with 8.1 per cent of children living in consistent poverty in 2019.

“Clearly this isn’t good enough. The Government is acutely aware that a significant amount of improvement is yet to be made so we must redouble and refocus our efforts if we are to reduce child poverty further, particularly in light of the repercussions of the pandemic,” he said.

“The full impact of the pandemic on society is yet to be understood but it is clear that we need to mitigate its effect on children and young people in particular.”

Ciairín de Buis, Vice Chair of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said Mr O’Brien was “absolutely right” and that the State had failed Travellers and they experience high rates of poverty.

“I think the Covid pandemic really highlighted the level, extent and depth of food poverty in Ireland and the school hot meals programme absolutely needs to be scaled up,” she said.

“It doesn’t need to be a pilot anymore, we know it works but it needs to be on a much larger scale and we also saw within the Children’s Rights Alliance the impact of food poverty on younger children, particularly in early years settings.

“All of that needs to feed into the national action plan and the resourcing.”

The Children’s Rights Alliance has called on the Government to put in place a national action plan to tackle child poverty.