THE Children’s Ombudsman has told an Oireachtas committee that the conditions children are living in on a Cork halting site are “utterly shocking”.
Niall Muldoon was addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues Affecting the Travelling Community on Tuesday morning about the recent report published by his office on the conditions at Spring Lane.
“The conditions we found on the halting site in question were deplorable," he said. "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.
"Paralysis in the system cannot continue and 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.”
He added: “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.”
Seventeen children at the site were interviewed by the investigation team from Mr Muldoon’s office, 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 report recommended that a risk assessment must be carried out in cooperation 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 report.
Mr Muldoon told the committee today that since the publication of the report, other sites with poor conditions have also been highlighted to his office.
“In light of this we have taken a number of steps including writing to An Taoiseach and all leaders of political parties because we believe that the time has come to, once and for all, eradicate the racism and discrimination in our Local Authority planning system which allows children to grow up in standards that were abolished for the rest of the Irish population over 50 years ago," he said.
“I have called on each political leader to instruct their representatives on Local Authorities all over the country to vote for progress on Traveller accommodation," Mr Muldoon also said.
"I have also asked that the Minister for Housing and Local Government be much more proactive in the monitoring of spending in this area.
"It is the only budget that routinely is not spent and the Minister must see to it that such underspends are not allowed to happen and if they do, there must be a serious oversight and audit of the workings of that Local Authority.”