Children's Ombudsman says conditions at Cork halting site 'reminiscent of Oliver Twist times'

Children's Ombudsman says conditions at Cork halting site 'reminiscent of Oliver Twist times'

File Picture: The Ombudsman for Children's Office has found what it has described as "deplorable" living conditions for children at a local authority-run halting site. Photo: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie

The Children’s Ombudsman says that conditions in a Cork halting site “are reminiscent of Oliver Twist times and tenement living in Ireland”.

Niall Muldoon made the comment to The Echo after the publication of a report which heavily criticised conditions on the site for children.

He said investigators from his office were shocked by what they saw on the site, in relation “to major health and safety risks, and the utterly inadequate living conditions where children are sleeping, eating, doing their homework and expected to play.” 

He added: “These are described as Dickensian conditions because they are reminiscent of Oliver Twist times and tenement living in Ireland [which] was marked by overcrowding, poor health and poor pest control but we believe that we banished those conditions 50 years ago. It is not good enough that children in Ireland in 2021 are living in this way.” 

Ten halting bays in the site will be refurbished, while a group housing scheme is also to be delivered in an adjacent site, according to a response from the local authority responsible for the site.

17 children interviewed 

Seventeen children at the site were interviewed by the Office for the Children's Ombudsman (OCO) team working on the report, including some as young as three years old.

One child spoke of having dirty clothes as a result of having to go to school through a dirty passageway while another told of seeing rats on the site, including running up and down “the walls of the trailer”.

Another interviewee spoke of the dampness of the bedsheets in the mornings while investigators also noted a lot of rubbish in the area.

The OCO recommended that a risk assessment be carried out in cooperation with the residents to address the health and safety risks identified at the site.

The report said that particular consideration should be given to the connection of all mobile units to plumbing and sewerage, the refurbishment of the welfare huts which house toilet and shower facilities, the removal of fire safety hazards, the clearing of children’s passage to school and the consistent provision of waste management, pest control, electrical and other maintenance. The matter of illegal dumping on the site must also be addressed as a matter of priority, according to the OCO.

Local authority response 

In response, the local authority said a risk assessment will be carried in the third quarter of this year.

It added that initial survey work has already begun. And it said: “New temporary welfare pods will be provided in Quarter 3, 2021 at the latest. The original 10 bays, including the welfare units, electrics, water, and sanitary services will be completely refurbished, in parallel with the delivery of a group housing scheme in the adjacent site.” 

It continued: “Alternative methods of refuse collection will be examined. Pest control service will resume following its temporary suspension due to Covid-19 and this will require full cooperation with residents. Clearing (the) children’s passage to the school is a complex and emotional matter but proactive engagement will continue to find mutually acceptable access solutions for both the children living in the halting site and the children residing in the neighbouring community.” 

Report welcomed 

The Traveller Visibility Group (TVG) and the Cork Traveller Women’s Network (CTWN) welcomed the report, highlighting that this is the OCO’s first report focusing on the lives of Traveller children and is a result of working with families over the course of three years.

Breda O’Donoghue of the Traveller Visibility Group said: “It is positive to see that the Local Authority has agreed to a detailed action plan with OCO to go about resolving the many issues that impact on children’s rights who are living on the site. We look forward to working with the Local Authority, OCO and the families involved during this process.” 

Brigid Carmody of the Cork Traveller Women’s Network added: “We welcome the ongoing monitoring of OCO in implementing the action plan as this ensures real structural change for the families living on the site and accountable actions that must be delivered.”

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