A MOTHER of children living on a Cork halting site which was at the centre of a recent report from the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (OCO) has said her family’s toys cannot be played with outside because of rats on the site.
The woman, who did not want to be identified, also said that her children’s school uniforms need to be washed several times a week because they get dirty when the children walk from their home to their school through a dirty pathway from the site.
She added that her children do not feel that they can invite their school friends on play dates to the halting site.
She said: “The electricity on the site keeps tripping and families are sharing shower and toilet facilities. And a lot of families experience dampness.”
“Kids have to be kept in really because of the rats — I don’t let them out until they are three years old because they could put something in their mouths.
“It is a health hazard, and is not safe. If we buy toys for the kids, we have to keep them inside because of the rats.
“I am not happy with the lifestyle for my children. We cannot leave the site because we have nowhere else to go.”
Seventeen children at the site were interviewed by the OCO team, 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 must be carried out in co-operation with the residents, including children, 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.
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.
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.
“New temporary welfare pods will be provided in Quarter 3, 2021, at the latest,” said the local authority.
“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.
“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 co-operation 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.”
Sinn Féin’s spokesperson on Children and Equality, Kathleen Funchion TD, described the report as damning.
“I, like so many others, read the utterly shocking stories of rat-infested accommodation, very poor bathing and showering facilities, wet and damp living quarters, faulty fire and carbon monoxide monitors, and children playing in piles of garbage,” she said.
“Hearing stories from children themselves of going to school dirty and smelly would break anybody’s heart.
“There can no longer be any tolerance of degrading treatment of our Traveller communities, and the Government must commit as a matter of urgency to addressing the 10 recommendations contained with the report.”