Overcrowding conditions on a Cork halting site could end in a tragedy similar to the Carrickmines fire disaster, it has been warned.
Senator Colette Kelleher (Ind) described the Spring Lane halting site, which has three times the number of intended occupants, as a dangerous living environment.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Kelleher raised the issue of Carrickmines fire, which killed ten Travellers, and made comparisons the Spring Lane site in Ballyvolane.
“Overcrowding was certainly a factor in the ten lives that were lost in the Carrickmines fire. I hope we are doing enough to make sure that Carrickmines never happens again.
“Awareness of fire safety and fire risk is one thing but, if one is living in an overcrowded site like Spring Lane, which was designed for ten families and has more than 30 families living there, with the best awareness in the world, there is going to be a fire and more tragedy.”
Living conditions in the travelling community impact upon health, mental health, schooling and employment, explained Senator Kelleher.
She said the difference in life expectancy between Traveller men and men in the general population is 15 years; the figure is 11.5 years between Traveller women to women in the general population.
“How can a Traveller live a good life?” she asked. “How can a Traveller get to school?
“Travellers have to walk across a muddy field in Spring Lane,” said Senator Kelleher.
“Children’s shoes are wrecked and destroyed in getting to school and, if one does not get to school, one does not get a job.
“The rate of unemployment in the Traveller community is 80% in a country that is almost at full employment.”
Senator Kelleher also hit out at local authorities across Ireland saying they have failed the travelling community. She called for an independent statutory body to draw up a national plan for providing accommodation for Travellers.
“We have to give absolute and proper consideration to an independent statutory body which would draw up, in consultation with local authorities, a national programme for provision of accommodation for Travellers. We cannot go on allowing local authorities to fail to deliver time and again.
“It is one thing for the local authorities not to do it but we are talking about people’s lives, the lives of children and their prospects and life chances, while living in absolutely unacceptable conditions in a country as wealthy as Ireland,” she added.
While Senator Kelleher said that there is major overcrowding and inaction surrounding halting sites, she added that there are also no sanctions on local authorities for failing to deliver.
Of the 31 local authorities, 16 have no Traveller-specific accommodation and there is just 59% draw down of available funding.