The Ombudsman for Children’s description of the appalling conditions at a local authority halting site in Cork city makes for shocking reading. The 10-bay Spring Lane site, which is not identified by name in the report of the ombudsman’s investigation into it, is home to 38 families, including 66 children. About 140 people share toilets and washing facilities designed for 40. Their environment is scarcely habitable; among the issues identified there are rodent infestation, poor sanitation, extreme overcrowding, unsafe access, illegal dumping, damp living areas, inadequate waste disposal, shoddy heating systems and unsafe electrical works. Children living there have a high rate of illness, including respiratory problems, and a lack of safe areas to play.
The report shines a light on a grave problem that too many arms of the State wish to ignore
The ombudsman offers a scathing view of official failures at the site, where Cork City Council has consistently fallen short in its duty to improve living conditions and uphold the human rights of residents. The local authority's approach to the situation is repeatedly characterised as passive, careless and discriminatory. The report states that it is failing to consider the best interests of children, failing to comply with the minimum requirements of the law in implementing its own Traveller Accommodation Programmes, and failing to offer acceptable explanations for overcrowding and other problems at the site.
The report shines a light on a grave problem that too many arms of the State wish to ignore. Its emphasis on the experiences of children, whose voices are amplified in the report, adds to its force. “People ask why I’m dirty, but I’d be ashamed to say. I don’t want to say it was from walking out of the site,” said one 14-year-old girl.
The ombudsman’s office makes 10 recommendations, including that council commitments be overseen by the chief executive; that housing applications made by families at the site be reviewed without delay; that health and safety risks be addressed; and that new complaint handling mechanisms be introduced. The council has responded positively to all the recommendations. Now it must act on them.