First Traveller Related Investigation of Living Conditions for Children by Ombudsman Finds Significant Failings In Council’s Duty On Overcrowded Site
“it’s like an abandoned place that people forgot about, it’s like we’re forgotten, we feel like garbage” (girl aged 12, living on the site)
(Monday May 24th, 2021) The Irish Traveller Movement welcome the Report by the Ombudsman for Children published today of an investigation into a local authority’s responsibility to 38 families resident in a site originally designed for 10 in Cork City. The OCO investigation found 6 serious and significant failings by the Local Authority:
- There was a failure to consider the best interests of children, including those with additional needs, and to ensure that children living on the site enjoy a safe, suitable standard of accommodation
- There was a failure to refurbish the welfare units in a timely manner, and to ensure consistent waste management and pest control on the site
- There was a failure to clear passage for children travelling to school, and to create safe spaces for them to play.
- Record keeping lacked transparency and accountability. Housing applications were incomplete or not processed meaning families may have missed out on getting a home or did not move up the list.
- Carelessness and undesirable administrative practice had resulted in overcrowding and serious risks on the site for children.
- There was a failure to account for the disadvantages experienced by Travellers in effectively securing accommodation
- There was a failure to comply with and implement the minimum requirements of the Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP) which places a statutory duty on local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of Travellers to address the significant inequalities facing them.
The Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) and the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) with 11 families and on behalf of 40 of the reported 66 children living there, brought complaints to the Ombudsman highlighting the deplorable living conditions for children on the local authority supplied halting site.
The investigation found that there are approximately 140 people using the toilets and washing facilities designed for 40 people and evidence of children sleeping on makeshift beds cramped into the living/dining spaces and highlighted the unreliability, and lack of basic facilities such as heating, lighting, and hot water;
Bernard Joyce, Director of the Irish Traveller Movement said “this report is a last resort available to children and families to seek a basic standard of living. It is also damning proof of gross negligence by Cork City Council, who have been aware for many years of the situations on the site and still failed to comply with and implement the minimum requirements of the Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP). Spring Lane is among the worst sites in Ireland. We seek the Minister’s direct intervention to oversee the recommendations in the Ombudsman’s Report, are completed.
The Spring Lane site has been consistently raised at the Oireachtas, The Un Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and to the Expert Group examining Traveller Accommodation in 2019 which lead to a Report to Government outlining the oversight required to ensure system failures are red flagged in processes and local authorities are held accountable.
According to an audit of all local authority Traveller accommodation programmes by the Irish Traveller Movement in 2020, it showed
o Cork City was one of 5 councils who didn’t provide targets for future needs of Traveller families in their current Programme and was the only authority to fail to supply data across a range of related collection points.
o The last count of Traveller families in 2019 showed 533 within the City
o Underspending: Cork City drew down under 2million of their Traveller accommodation budget for the combined 5 yrs. 2016-2020.
Today the Irish Traveller Movement calls for:
- Minister Peter Burke to directly intervene in overseeing the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s Report are completed by Cork City Council.
- A review of all local authority practice in delivering Traveller Accommodation Programmes.
- Expedite the recommendations of the Expert Review on Traveller Accommodation and establish the independent national Traveller accommodation authority.
- Circumvent the Part 8 process away from the local political system and invest in an An Bord Pleanála
According to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, (DHLGH) (last available data 2019) there were 10,809 families or approx. 57,000 individuals (using 5.3 as family size ratio Census 2016) throughout the 31 local authority areas. Given other Travellers may have no engagement with a local authority, or do not self-identify for the purposes of data collection, the true population is likely larger.
Between 2008 and 2019 over €72 million was unspent by local authorities on Traveller accommodation and investment by Government declined from an available allocation for the first TAP 2000-2004 of € 120 million compared to the 2014-2018 one. of € 33 million.
For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Jacinta Brack at Jacinta@itmtrav.ie or on 087 27 44 791.
The Ombudsman for Children’s report: “No End in Site – An investigation into the living conditions of children living on a local authority halting site” is available here