Thursday, 3 June 2021
Traveller Accommodation: Statements
Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
Last week, the Ombudsman for Children published a scathing 72-page report into the conditions in which children are living at the Spring Lane site in the heart of my constituency. It is a site with which I am familiar and I have tried to do a lot of work on this issue in the past. Spring Lane was originally opened in 1989 as a ten-bay halting site but it was overcrowded from day one as 16 families originally moved in there. This goes to the heart of Cork City Council’s mismanagement of the site from the very beginning, as it allowed it to expand rapidly to the point that there are now 38 families with 66 children living there. Around 140 people share toilet and washing facilities designed for 40. Eoin English published a detailed article in the Irish Examinerthis week on the various actions and reports that have been undertaken on Spring Lane. I commend the work of people like him and journalists in The Echo, who alongside the Traveller Visibility Group in Cork have highlighted the issues on this site time and again over the last number of years.
This issue not only affects the residents of the site but the mismanagement of the Spring Lane site affects the entire community and people right across Ballyvolane. In 2011, Cork City Council recognised that something needed to be done. Instead of working with Traveller representative groups, residents of the site and the local community, it brought forward a proposal to expand the site into Ellis’ Yard. This was opposed by everyone, including the local community, Traveller representative organisations and the Travellers living on the site. It would have led to increased segregation and would not have resolved the structural issues with the site. An engineering report in 2012 found that drainage issues led to the formation of a large lagoon made up of water, raw sewage and human excrement that could be seen clearly at the edges. The report stated that this not only posed a risk to residents' well-being and health but was hazardous as people could drown in it. In 2013, an extensive independent review was published with a comprehensive roadmap for improvement which would have seen the site closed by now. However, that report has lain idle since its publication. In 2014, Joe Horan published 21 recommendations to improve the site. Ultimately this too led to few improvements, with Louise Harrington from the Cork Traveller Women’s Network saying the report failed because of a lack of outcomes. The European Committee on Social Rights has also highlighted concerns over conditions on the site as a result of legal action taken by Pavee Point and local residents in conjunction with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, IHREC.
Alongside these reports, residents on the site have worked to highlight the conditions in which they are living. The residents won the Traveller Pride community work award in 2016 for their campaigns on the site and for launching their own manifesto for improvement. It is clear that the residents of this site, and the wider local community, have been failed time and again. Instead of working to build relationships and reduce stigma, Cork City Council has left residents living in squalor by failing to maintain and manage the site correctly. This has led to increased tensions within the community and surrounding areas. It has also negatively impacted those living on the site and created divisions between residents and the wider community. The blame for this lies solely on those who have either worked against, or looked away from, efforts to make improvements. Children have described rats running up walls and being unable to make friends in school because they were always dirty due to the unkempt walkways and passageway on which they had to travel.
I spoke with Cork City Council’s chief executive on Monday and discussed the recommendations in the report with her. She has given a commitment to implement them. The Ombudsman for Children has also said he will follow up on these recommendations. There is much more I could say about this site and the failures but the one point I want to make is that every child in this State is equal and it is not acceptable for any child to live in these conditions.