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Ombudsman for Children’s Office launches No End in Site – An investigation into the living conditions of children living on a local authority halting site
- 24 May 2021
- Type: Press Release
- Topic: Housing
The Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO), today (Monday, May 24) published No End in Site; An investigation into the living conditions of children living on a local authority site.
A Traveller Advocacy Group (TAG) initially contacted the OCO in 2018 about conditions at a local authority run halting site where 66 children and their families were living. Eleven families then came forward and made complaints about a persistent problem with rodent infestation; inadequate sanitation; extreme overcrowding; safety concerns about access to the site; illegal dumping nearby; inconsistent and inadequate waste disposal; inadequate heating systems; unsafe electrical works; a high rate of childhood illness caused by living conditions; a lack of safe play areas for children and housing applications not being progressed.
The OCO met with families and visited the site on three occasions, observing the very basic conditions which have been in place since the site was established in 1989. In total, there are approximately 140 people using toilets and washing facilities designed for 40 people and the residents say this has led to stress, tension and, at times, conflict.
During our investigation the HSE Director of Public Health Nursing told us that the children living on this halting site suffer skin conditions and respiratory problems at a much higher rate than the general population. The Chief Fire Officer told us that there are frequent calls to the site and we met with 17 children who told us that they feel different to their peers due to standard of the conditions on the site.
“walking up to school you see all the rats” …… “they would be running up and down the walls of the trailer” (girl 12)
“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” (girl 14)
“when you put your hands out of the bed in the mornings, the blankets are all wet” (girl 16)
Speaking ahead of the publication of No End in Site, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said:
“The conditions we found on the halting site in question were deplorable. To think that children in Ireland in 2021 are living like this is utterly shocking. Under no circumstances can this be accepted or allowed to continue.
“This was a long and difficult investigation for the families involved, for the Traveller Advocacy Group and the local authority in question. I very much welcome the commitments made by the local authority to implement the recommendations from this investigation and in particular the expressed commitment by the CEO to ensure the necessary actions occur.
“I will be seeking regular updates from the local authority on the progress they have made in implementing our recommendations and how the lives of children have improved.
The OCO investigation found the local authority failed to consider the best interests of children.
They also failed to maintain the site; this includes upkeep of the toilet and showering facilities known as ‘welfare units’, ensuring consistent waste management and pest control, and providing a clear and safe passage to school, as well areas for children to play.
Record keeping was not transparent or accountable. Housing applications were incomplete or not processed, meaning families may have missed out on getting a home or did not move up the list. Overcrowding on the site was another result of poor administration.
We also found that the local authority failed to account for the disadvantages experienced by Travellers in effectively securing accommodation and they did not meet their obligations in relation to the Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP).
Considering the seriousness of this investigation and to ensure accountability, the OCO has recommended that the commitments made by the local authority are overseen at CEO level.
We have recommended that the housing applications complaints made by the 11 families involved in this case are reviewed without delay.
The health and safety risks identified must be addressed in cooperation with residents. Connecting all mobile units to plumbing and sewerage, refurbishing welfare huts, removing fire hazards, clearing the children’s passage to school, waste management, pest control and electrical works are all required.
Paralysis in the system cannot continue. The local authority should set out how they will address the accommodation needs of the site residents in the coming years.
An independent audit of all social housing applications from the families on this site should be undertaken.
A specific policy is needed to assist Travellers to navigate the housing Choice Based Letting system and the Housing Assistance Programme.
A review of the Traveller Accommodation Unit should take place to ensure works are addressed and families are supported.
The local authority should establish a specific complaint handling mechanism or amend the current complaint process to ensure it is easily accessible and effective in managing complaints.
The OCO has also recommended that the local authority engages the HSE social inclusion unit, Tusla, youth services and local schools to improve the lives of the children living on the site.
The local authority responsible for maintaining this site and dealing with housing applications from the residents has cooperated with this long investigation, and it has agreed a number of specific actions in response to our recommendations.
- 24 May 2021
- Type: Press Release
- Topic: Housing