Traveller children living in ‘deplorable’ conditions

Senators hear call for end to people living in circumstances ‘abolished’ years ago for most

The Spring Lane Halting Site in Cork city. Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said that ‘to think that children are living like this in Ireland in 2021 is utterly shocking’. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision.

The Spring Lane Halting Site in Cork city. Ombudsman for Children Dr Niall Muldoon said that ‘to think that children are living like this in Ireland in 2021 is utterly shocking’. File photograph: Daragh McSweeney/Provision.

 

No excuses should be accepted for blocking accommodation for Travellers, or for the failure to use fully State funds provided to build it, the Ombudsman for Children has told an Oireachtas committee.

Dr Niall Muldoon was speaking following a recent investigation by his office into the living conditions faced by Travellers in a local authority halting site at Spring Lane, Cork city.

There, it was found that Traveller children’s rights were being violated as they were living in filthy, overcrowded, rat-infested, cold and unsafe conditions.

The report criticised Cork City Council’s failure to consider the interests of the children living there, its persistent failure to address illegal dumping and its passivity regarding overcrowding on the site.

Dr Muldoon told the Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community that conditions on the site were “deplorable” and under no circumstances can be accepted or allowed to continue.

“To think that children are living like this in Ireland in 2021 is utterly shocking,” he said.

Other sites

He added that other sites had since come to light and “nearly every local authority” could be held to account in the way Cork City Council had.

Systemic change in how Travellers are treated by local authorities was needed and the committee had the opportunity to “make the difference”, said the ombudsman.

“The time has come once and for all to eradicate the racism and discrimination in our local authority system which allows children to grow up in standards that were abolished for others years ago,” he said.

The funding allocated for the provision of Traveller accommodation was not being used and was “the only budget that is routinely not spent”, the committee heard. Dr Muldoon said the Minister for Housing must ensure such underspends do not continue.

Committee chairwoman Senator Eileen Flynn said the report was “difficult to read” and brought her back to her own childhood. She said she was “hoping something will change” for Traveller children growing up today.

Shame in education

“I could speak here all day about inequalities. I’ve lived through this and young children today are still living through this – not getting access to education, shame in education, not having a safe place to play in. I was that child,” she said.

Fianna Fáil Senator Ned O’Sullivan said even after being in politics for about 35 years he was “fairly shocked by this report”.

He said it was “an absolute disgrace” that funds for Traveller accommodation were not being used up and if it was funding for any other issue the councils “would be screaming for more”.

Dr Muldoon said he would be seeking regular updates from the local authority on the progress made on implementing their recommendations and updates on how the lives of children have improved.